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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 26, 2006

Females closing gap in business ownership

By Stephen Ohlemacher
Associated Press

WASHINGTON The number of women-owned businesses, many of them one-person enterprises, grew at twice the national rate for all private companies from 1997 to 2002.

About 28 percent of all private companies were owned by women in 2002, according to the report being released today by the Census Bureau.

The report, which found the fastest growth rates in Nevada and Georgia, focused on privately owned companies, as opposed to those with publicly traded stocks.

"Attitudes about women in the workplace, period, have changed, let alone women running their own businesses," said Erin Fuller, executive director of the National Association of Women Business Owners. "It just hasn't quickly enough or as much as we would hope for."

The report is based on the Census Bureau's 2002 survey of 1.9 million business owners. It defines women-owned businesses as firms in which women own 51 percent or more of the interest or stock.

The report identified 6.5 million firms with female owners. Some 13.2 million were owned by men, and 2.7 million companies were owned equally by men and women.

The number of women-owned businesses grew by 20 percent from 1997 to 2002, while the number for men grew 16 percent. The number of all private businesses grew 10 percent to about 23 million.

Most of the women-owned businesses had no employees other than the owner. But that's true for all private businesses. According to census data, 76 percent of all private businesses had no employees other than the owner in 2002.

Margaret Smith, who owns a large kitchen and home accessory store in Los Gatos, Calif., has 25 employees and sales in the millions.

She has owned the store, called Domus, for 10 years, yet she still gets mistaken for the owner's wife. She took her husband on a trip to a trade show last year and several exhibitors ignored her and tried to do business with her husband.

"Of course, he knows nothing about my business, but they had a very hard time accepting that," Smith said.

Smith, who had been a business lawyer for 15 years before buying the store, said she was helped early on by a loan program at her bank for women entrepreneurs.

Susan Phillips Bari, president of the Women's Business Enterprise National Council, said businesses owned by women can have a hard time accessing capital and markets.

"The number of women-owned businesses is astounding," Bari said. "Our issue is not with the number of businesses, but rather with their access to contracts in the government and private sector, which would allow them to grow."

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