Women Owning Businesses At Increasing Rate Nationally; Iowa Lagging Behind

By George C. Ford
The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The number of women-owned business has increased 74 percent nationally since 1997, but Iowa has failed to keep pace, according to a new report from American Express OPEN.

The number of Iowa businesses owned by women rose 25.9 percent from 58,000 in 1997 to 73,000 in 2015, ranking it 49th in the nation. The state ranked 51st of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of revenue growth, with an estimated 4.6 percent decrease from $8.1 million in 1997 to $7.7 million in overall revenue expected this year.

Employment has plunged at Iowa businesses owned by women, falling 26.4 percent over the last 18 years from 71,724 people in 1997 to 52,800 this year.

New to this year’s report is a ranking of states by growth in the number of women-owned businesses since the recession. Iowa is ranked third with post-recession growth of 276 percent between 2007 and 2015 compared with pre-recession growth between 2003 and 2007.

The report by American Express OPEN is based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s business census, the Survey of Business Owners, taken every five years.

Diane Ramsey, chief executive officer of Iowa Women Lead Change in Cedar Rapids, said many women starting businesses in Iowa are single entrepreneurs.

“They may be supporting a family, but they are not creating jobs,” Ramsey said. “Women in our state are not successful in getting annual sales beyond the million-dollar level. There are quite a few businesses that have annual sales of more than $1 million, but they’ve really struggled trying to get larger.”

Ramsey said the $1 million sales figure is a “critical hurdle” for women entrepreneurs.

“That’s when they start to grow and add staff,” she said. “They become a growth indicator in the economy.”

Ramsey said Iowa women entrepreneurs need access to more resources, including finances and mentoring, to grow their businesses.

She said there is a growing effort to recruit women who have worked in corporate roles to share their skills with entrepreneurs.

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