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Businesswomen on the go

Utah growth rate for female-owned firms is 3rd in U.S.

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Utah ranks third in the nation for women-owned business growth, according to a study by the Center for Women's Business Research in Washington, D.C.

The study, conducted between 1997 and 2002, found that the number of women-owned businesses in Utah grew by 27.2 percent. Nationwide, the number grew by an average rate of 14 percent.

Employment by Utah's women-owned businesses jumped 94 percent, compared to an average rate of 29 percent in other states.

Idaho and Wyoming topped the center's list. Nevada and Arizona ranked fourth and fifth, respectively.

According to the report, the top five states enjoyed "strong overall business growth and market expansion, a greater than average degree of federal financial support for small business, higher than average population growth, lower than average wages, lower than average employment of women in professional and managerial positions and an overall state tax structure that relies more on sales taxes than corporate and personal income taxes as a source of revenue."

"Women business owners in these states are taking full advantage of the special opportunities presented by a vibrant, growing economy, a relatively low-cost work force and government programs providing access to capital, training and technical support," Myra M. Hart, chairwoman of the Center for Women's Business Research and a professor at Harvard Business School, said in a prepared statement. "Not only are they growing at twice the rate of all women-owned business in the United States — their businesses are expanding in employment and revenues by more than two and a half times the rate of all U.S. women-owned enterprises."

Jan Hemming, president of the National Association of Women Business Owners' Utah chapter, agreed that women have more and better opportunities today than ever before.

"There's a critical mass of elements that have contributed," Hemming said. "Everything from favorable bank financing, more female mentors, corporate downsizing, personal independence, plain old chutzpah and the state's pioneering tradition."

Hemming cited a 2002 NAWBO/CWBR survey that ranked Utah's women-owned businesses first among metropolitan areas nationwide in the percentage of growth of women-owned businesses and for their employment levels and sales over the previous five years.

"In the Salt Lake/Ogden region, women employed more than 57,000 people and generated $6.2 billion in sales," Hemming said. "For a small state, the numbers seem remarkable. But I think there's a lot of energy here and a lot of innovation."

The Salt Lake Chamber recently moved its Women's Business Center to the former Downtown Alliance building on Main Street to make it more accessible to businesses and to show the chamber's commitment to the growth of small businesses in the metro area, said chamber spokesman Michael De Groote.

De Groote said the chamber was not surprised by the CWBR survey results.

"The results follow trends that have been ongoing for quite some time," he said. "Women business owners are some of the most innovative and entrepreneurial business owners in the state. The Women's Business Center was formed at the chamber to respond to just this sort of need."

Along with business organizations, banks and other lending institutions also have ramped up their support for women-owned businesses, said Hemming.

"Banks have led the way," she said. "It used to be very hard for women to get credit or loans. Now, most of the top banks have special services and service centers for women. They see that this is the sector that's growing, and growing faster than any other business sector."

Wells Fargo, the underwriter of the CWBR report, announced Thursday that it has set a new goal to lend $20 billion over the next 10 years to women-owned businesses. From 1995 through the second quarter of 2003, the bank reported it has loaned $15.7 billion to women business owners.

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com