Women-owned businesses branching out

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The number of women-owned businesses in the United States is growing at twice the national average and the companies themselves are becoming increasingly diverse.

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Center for Women’s Business Research, one in 18 women nationwide is a business owner. And those businesses are more often seen in non-traditional industries such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture and transportation.

The center’s research also determined that minorities lead one in five women-owned firms. There were about 1.2 million privately-held minority companies owned by women in 2002. The businesses employed more than 822,000 people and generated more than $100 billion in revenue. The companies are growing at twice the rate of all women-owned businesses and at four times the rate of businesses nationwide, according to the center.

In 2002, there were about 138,518 women-owned companies in Colorado, accounting for 31 percent of all privately-held firms in the state. Women-owned businesses in Colorado employ more than 174,000 people and generate nearly $22.2 billion in sales. The center reported that the number of women-owned firms grew by 57 percent from 1997 to 2002 – double the growth rate of all businesses in the state.

There are several organizations that cater to the needs of minority- and women-owned businesses in the Pikes Peak region, including chambers of commerce dedicated to serving blacks, Hispanics, Indians and Koreans, and the Small Business Development Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Mi Casa Resource Center for Women.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Colorado Springs has 250 members, said Nikki Dixon, executive director. The chamber is “a group of leaders that inspire, lead and give support to Hispanic entrepreneurs to achieve success in business and positively influence economic and political events in Colorado Springs.”

The chamber’s president, Gene Sanchez, said the organization works to “kick start the Hispanic businesses. We may direct the members to the Small Business Development Center or SCORE, but we also try to provide members with a checklist and a map of what they need to do in order to open a business. Our monthly luncheon meetings are one of the best places to network for Hispanic businesses.”

The Southern Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1993 “to promote and encourage the advancement of southern Colorado women in business, industry, commerce and government,” according to the group’s Web site.

The women’s chamber offers programs that address issues concerning women in business and educational workshops for businesswomen. The group also provides networking opportunities for business development, mentoring and help for women seeking new career opportunities.

Mi Casa Resource Center for Women in Pueblo, which was founded in 1976, provides service throughout southern Colorado. Project coordinator Marta Madrid said 75 percent of the people the group helps are minorities.

The center provides nationally accredited, 12-week entrepreneurial classes, Madrid said. Class topics include how to register as a corporation, marketing, cash flow and cash projections, and creating a business plan.

“At the end of the course, the low-income women and minorities have a business plan they can take to a lender,” Madrid said. “In addition, we have a small in-house loan program that starts out at $500 and goes up to $5,000.”

Mi Casa’s classes are taught in English and Spanish. Madrid said she hopes to be able to offer classes taught in sign language by the end of the year. Mi Casa receives funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration, and solicits for other grants.

“We also have collaborators – professionals in our community – who provide expertise and donate their time to help our clients,” Madrid said.

The Small Business Development Center provides assistance to any resident that is interested in starting a small business. The center is a cooperative venture of the Small Business Administration, the state, the UC-Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak Community College.

The center offers classes to help people start a small business. Instruction includes information about licenses and permits, structure and business insurance. The NX Level Business Planning program has had a hand in launching many women- and minority-owned businesses in the Springs.

Jackie Goode, owner of Idoru clothing store on East Bijou Street, said the program helped her immensely. “I was totally in the dark about market research,” Goode said. “I learned about demographics, income and populations as well as how the city is growing. My projections are very positive.”

Marie Montanez, owner of Tortilleria Jalisco on South Academy Boulevard, was equally enthusiastic about the program. “We were able to open our new restaurant with the assistance from SBDC and a loan from the Colorado Enterprise Fund,” Montanez said.

Although the city and the Economic Development Corp. don’t specifically target companies owned by women or minorities in their quest to attract businesses to the area, there are plenty of resources available for those looking for assistance. The state Office of Economic Development also has programs for women- and minority-owned businesses. Contact the women’s business office online at www.state.co.us/oed/wbo. The minority office Web site is www.state.co.us/oed/mbo.

- Jan.Mowle@csbj.com