Women in Colorado generate $49.8 billion in sales — thanks to roughly 245,000 women-owned businesses throughout the state.
Colorado ranks 13th in the number of women-owned business, an entrepreneurial group that is on the rise nationwide, according to the Small Business Administration.
The report uses newly released U.S. Census and other data to describe women’s contributions to the economy. Nationally, the number of women-owned firms increased 20 percent from 1997 to 2002, while the total number of U.S. firms grew by 7 percent.
Christina Blenk operates a Web site, www.womenowned.com, that caters to woman-owned businesses. With more than 2,000 members worldwide, she says more women are choosing to operate their own businesses because of the flexibility it provides.
“One thing they share is they are looking for control of their professional destiny and better control over their time, something they can’t do in a traditional workplace,” she said.
Lyda Hill, owner of Seven Falls and Hill Development Corp., said women start their own business when they hit the glass ceiling.
“Even today, women in the private business sector find themselves hitting the glass ceiling,” she said. “They can’t accomplish as much as they’d like — but they know they can do it.”
So they go out and create their own businesses, and are largely successful at it, Hill said.
“Women aren’t afraid to start small,” she said. “They know they can do it and they are successful because in some ways, women are ideally suited to business ownership. They’ve picked up skills working with children, by being volunteers and they’ve identified things that are needed — they fill a niche.”
The Economic Development Corp. in Colorado Springs does not keep figures on the number of women-owned businesses in the area. But there’s no doubt that women are important to the economy, said Kara Roberts, vice president of local industry.
“They definitely invest in the community,” she said. “And women play a very important role in business here. We just can’t quantify to what extent.”
Nationwide, women own 6.5 million businesses, with 7.1 million workers and $173.7 billion in annual payroll.
Blenk said the numbers speak for themselves, but they don’t tell the whole picture.
“Most women-owned businesses are very small companies, where the woman is the sole entrepreneur, or they have one or two employees,” she said. “Women are not creating their own companies with the idea of making a million dollars. They are looking for freedom. It’s one of the differences between them and the male-owned firms.”
Blenk cites her own Web-design business as an example. She’s been in business for 10 years, has her own office and six employees.
“But a lot of people think, ‘Ten years! You should have 100 employees and sell it for $150 million.’ But that’s not what it’s about,” she said. “It’s about giving me the flexibility that I need.”
The study backs up Blenk’s claims. In 2002, 84 percent of women-owned employer firms had fewer than 10 employees. Only 7,240 firms had 100 or more employees.
But women-owned businesses still are creating jobs, Hill said. And that’s why their contributions should not be overlooked.
“When my time is done, I’ll probably be known as a great philanthropist,” she said. “But I think my greatest contribution is creating jobs. I’ve started a lot of businesses, and they’ve all creating jobs. That’s the most important thing you can do if you care about people.”
Women-owned businesses still don’t get the same kind of respect that businesses owned by men do, Blenk said.
“Women open businesses that are more nurturing in nature,” she said. “Child clothing lines, pet sitting companies. They aren’t operating construction companies, for the most part.”
Hill agrees, noting that most businesses owned by women are in the service sector.
“That’s a tough sector,” she said. “Because they have to please the customer, or they go somewhere else. But women are creating these jobs because they see a gap, a niche they want to fill.”
Creating new businesses that rely on service is only one way women see business differently than men, Hill said.
“Women are less afraid of failure than men,” she said. “Men tend to put their personal identity with their business – if their businesses fail, then they’ve failed. Women aren’t like that.”