Wis. Makes Strides In Women-Owned Businesses

By by / Liam Marlaire Leader-Telegram staff
The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.

Wisconsin has nearly 130,000 women-owned businesses that have around 157,400 employees, according to the fifth annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN.

The study found that the number of women-owned businesses nationally has increased 74 percent since 1997. Wisconsin ranks 40th in the growth of the number of women-owned companies (44.6 percent) and 41st in the firms’ revenue over that time (58.1 percent).

A closer look at the statistics, however, shows that the Badger State has made significant strides of late in this area. Wisconsin ranked eighth in post-recession growth as women business starts rose 187 percent.

Julie Weeks, American Express OPEN research adviser, said overall economic and demographic trends are tied to the growth of women firms in any state. She added, however, that three steps can make a state’s environment healthier for women entrepreneurship:

–Public sector recognition of their importance through programs and policies such as procurement goals for women-owned firms, women’s business conferences and outreach events.

–Service provider organizations such as women’s business centers that are visible beacons of support. A state example is the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. Services are provided locally by the Western Dairyland Women’s Business Center.

–Visible and active women business owners and their membership organizations, which are vocal advocates for women’s business issues.

Possibilities abound
A key trend in the growth of women-owned businesses isdiversification, Weeks said.

“There’s no longer a stereotypical woman-owned business,” she said. “That said, however, there are some industries in which women are more likely than average to be found.”

Those are health care and social assistance, in which 53 percent of businesses are women-owned; and education services, in which 45 percent are women-owned.

Women are starting businesses at 1½ times the national average, Weeks said, so getting women to consider entrepreneurial endeavors is less of a concern than it once was.

Luke Hanson, executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., said he is seeing an increase in local businesses owned by women.

“Eau Claire has always had fewer women business owners than other cities around the country, (but) we are seeing a few more businesses owned by women and that’s encouraging,” said Bob McCoy, president and CEO of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.

The next step, Weeks said, is for more individual women-owned businesses to expand. Women own 30 percent of all businesses in the U.S. but only employ 6 percent of the workforce and account for 4 percent of business revenue.

“Even when large, publicly traded firms are excluded, women still contribute only 14 percent of jobs and 12 percent of revenues,” she said. “So I’d say that the area of concentration for those interested in enabling women’s entrepreneurship in the U.S. should be on showing women business owners the value of scaling or growing their businesses. That discussion, in my view, should focus on increased benefits of growth to their communities and their employees, rather than on growth for growth’s sake.”

Further growth
McCoy lauded the efforts of the Western Dairyland Women’s Business Center, which has adapted to the expanding needs of women business owners.

“In the last year, we have added programming for what we call second-stage entrepreneurs, which is a term loosely used to define female business owners that are beyond the start-up phase, are profitable and are now pursuing growth by expanding locations, staff, product lines or markets,” said Karman Briggs, director of jobs and business development for Western Dairyland.

“Programming such as our ‘Marketing 360’ class, our ‘Mission Driven’ class and our industry roundtable discussions are meant to bring women back to the table and facilitate their next steps in business growth.”

Access to capital remains a barrier, Briggs said.

“As a community and as a nation, we need to expand the landscape of entrepreneurship to better include and embrace women by acknowledging that women often start businesses that are innately different than the businesses men start — in size, scope and purpose,” she said. “And that is good. Women frequently develop new business models, address new market needs and create new products or services that men have not and probably would not.”

And help is available.

“Entrepreneurship is the single best vehicle for a woman to attain economic self-sufficiency, and with that comes the freedom to make your own decisions,” Briggs said. “Don’t worry if no one has ever done what you want to do; it’s OK to go first.
“And there is a wealth of resources available through the SBA (Small Business Administration) and at the Women’s Business Center to assist you every step of the way.”

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