Women-owned firms opening at faster pace

Rate is three times that of nation as a whole, census finds

April 05, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Women are opening businesses at triple the rate of the rest of the country, but tend to own smaller companies, according to figures released yesterday by the U.S. Commerce Department's Census Bureau.

Women owned 5.4 million companies in 1997, a 16 percent increase from five years before, the period the Commerce Department studied. Businesses overall, excluding publicly held corporations, grew by 6 percent.

The report defined women-owned businesses as those in which women own 51 percent or more of the firm. In addition to those, there were 3.6 million husband-and-wife-owned companies.

Nearly 69 percent of women-owned businesses made less than $25,000 in gross annual revenue, compared with 53 percent of all firms. Some industry experts say those figures show the hardship women still face in accessing loans and other capital.

"There is definitely still a gap in terms of financing," said Amanda Crook Zinn, chief executive officer of Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore. "Even though women have made great advances, that still remains a problem."

Maryland had the third highest percentage of women-owned businesses, after the District of Columbia and New Mexico. About 30 percent of the state's 400,200 companies were owned by women.

The nationwide growth continues a trend that started more than a decade ago, said Sheila Brooks, vice president of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

While women may start their own businesses for the same reasons as anybody else, there are also factors that may be unique to them, industry experts and women entrepreneurs themselves say. Some women may want a more flexible work schedule that coordinates better with family life, while others may find advancement opportunities in their previous careers limited

"Women stay in corporate America until they hit that glass ceiling and decide, `I'm going to do my own thing,' " said Oliver J. Phillips, director of business development for the Small Business Administration's Baltimore district office.

Welfare-to-work programs have also created business opportunities for women in recent years.

Maryland's lucrative business activity is fueled in part by its proximity to Washington, where the federal government offers many business opportunities, Phillips said.

The Commerce Department released data on Hispanic and African-American businesses earlier in the month, and will publish similar numbers on businesses owned by Native Americans and Asians later in the year.

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