Women-Owned Businesses Surge In Wyoming

By Becky Orr Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne.

CHEYENNE

Jane Eickbush opened Bouquets Unlimited here in 1982 and has been the boss ever since.

She started the business with a friend because both were moms who wanted something to do, given that their children had grown.

But the floral business turned out to be much more than that for Eickbush. It became her career, and a contributor to Cheyenne's economy.

She became its sole owner when she bought out her partner when the woman moved away.

Eickbush built a new store in 1994 at 5709 Yellowstone Road in north Cheyenne. She designed it herself especially for the needs of a floral business.

She said she enjoys the business and keeps up with the times. She and her employees often attend floral shows where new design trends are explained. Her business also has a Facebook page.

"It's a good business all the time. The location is good," she said. "We have awesome designs and good customer service."

She has 12 employees, and her daughter Shareen is the store manager.

Eickbush is a business pioneer for women-owned businesses in Wyoming. She is part of the growing group of women residents who own their own businesses.

Wyoming has made big strides in the number of businesses owned by women, a national report shows.

Women-owned businesses in Wyoming increased from 11,148 in 1997 to an estimated 19,300 in 2015, the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report says.

Businesses owned by women in Wyoming now employ 16,200 people and had sales of about $3 billion a year, the report adds.

American Express OPEN commissioned the study. It looks at data from the U.S. Census Bureau's "Survey of Business Owners" from 1997, 2002 and 2007.

"If I were a woman-owned business in Wyoming, I'd be very happy," said Julie Weeks, who wrote the report.

The rate of growth in women-owned businesses in Wyoming from 1997-2015 is 73 percent, close to the national growth rate, she added.

That's OK for Wyoming, but the big news for the state is the growth in sales among women-owned businesses, Weeks said in a telephone interview.

In 1997, the amount of sales at businesses owned by women in Wyoming was $945 million, her study shows.

The amount of sales in Wyoming at women-owned businesses in 2015 now is estimated at $3 billion. That is a 220.4 percent increase from 1997.

"I would be happy with the 220 percent increase in revenues over the last 18 years," Weeks said.

The number of jobs created nationally by women-owned businesses increased by 12 percent from 1997 to 2015.

But in Wyoming, the number of jobs created by women-owned businesses in the same time period grew 43 percent.

The amount of money and jobs created by women-owned businesses in Wyoming is "far superior" than the national average, Weeks said.

"Women-owned firms in Wyoming are doing very well," she said. "Women entrepreneurs in the state are thriving.

"When you're looking at the entire 18-year period, from 1998 to 2015, Wyoming ranks No. 2 in the terms of the clout of women-owned businesses."

She said the report indirectly took population growth over the 18 years into account.

There are several reasons for an increase in women-owned businesses in Wyoming. One could be an increase in overall population in the state since 1997.

Another reason Wyoming is doing well has to do with the age of its residents, says Debbie Gorski, executive director of the Wyoming Women's Business Center.

She said she talked to her employees who agreed that a lot of women whose children now are going to college see an opportunity to start their own businesses.

Other women may view operating their own business as a chance to earn more than minimum wage, Gorski said.

Jill Kline is the director of the Wyoming Entrepreneur Small Business Development Center. She said slightly more than 50 percent of its client base is women.

"I think women are taking care of themselves," she said. "They realize that this is a changing world.

"We have to have capacity to do these things and take care of ourselves because there is no guarantee for anyone that a spouse or significant other will always be there to maintain that lifestyle."

Jobs in Wyoming's energy field may be another reason for the increase in women-owned businesses. A lot of jobs there pay well, which frees up the other spouse to consider possibilities like opening a business, Kline said.

Amy Lea is the district director for the U.S. Small Business Administration in Wyoming.

Information from the SBA shows that the percentage of women who are self-employed in Wyoming is higher than for the United States as a whole, she said.

"With 96 percent of all firms being small businesses and 40 percent of Wyoming self-employed people being women -- it just make sense that the (report) shows women-owned small firms in Wyoming on the rise."

She added, "The women I work with are inspired to start and expand businesses in Wyoming for many reasons. Some see opportunities to apply their technical expertise in the marketplace.

"Others develop businesses because they believe this will help them balance work with their other priorities."

The University of Wyoming, SBA and the Wyoming Business Council have worked together to develop a network of resources to help business owners and entrepreneurs succeed, she said.

Eickbush said she is not surprised there are so many women-owned businesses in Wyoming. Floral businesses, for example, often are owned by women.

But it's important that a business be successful. To help reach success, a business owner must be involved in the community and part of its activities, she added.

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