More women are starting businesses than ever before

   In October, I had the privilege of attending the 23rd annual Whatcom Women in Business (WWIB) Awards Banquet. WWIB honored six leading women in our community and recognized their achievements as businesswomen and major contributors to Whatcom County.
   For 23 years, WWIB has recognized the achievements of working women. I couldn’t help but reflect on what huge impact women in business and women business owners have had on Bellingham, our state and nation. Businesses owned by women are the fastest growing segment of business owners in the United States.
   Master of ceremonies Bill Querhn said it best when he shared the background on each of the nominees and their many contributions to our community. From business ownership to volunteerism and political activism, these women are making a huge difference in Bellingham. Bill asked us to imagine what Whatcom County would be like if these women weren’t here, weren’t involved, weren’t such amazing contributors to our rich quality of life. 
   In recognizing what an impact women are having on businesses, a number of statistics emphasize these impacts:
    There were 68 million workingwomen in 2003, a significant increase from 18.4 million in 1950.
    60% of women participate in the U.S. labor force, and they represent 47% of the total labor force.
    In 2003, nearly three-quarters of all mothers were in the labor force.
    72% of part-time workers are women. Further, more than one million women earn wages below the federal minimum wage.
    One in every 11 adult women in the U.S. owns a business. Female entrepreneurship has been growing at twice the national average since 1997.
    There were 10.6 million privately held, women-owned businesses in 2004, and there were another 3.9 million firms that were equally owned by a woman and a man. Women of color owned 1.2 million of these firms, approximately 8.2%.
    Between 1997 and 2004, the number of women-owned firms increased by 17% nationwide, twice the rate of all firms (17% vs. 9%). Firms owned by women of color increased by 32%.
    Three in 10 working women (29%) make all or almost all of their family’s income, and six in 10 (62%) earn about half of their family’s income.
    Women are responsible for 83% of all consumer purchases: 94% of home furnishings, 92% of vacations, 91% of houses, 51% of consumer electronics, and 60% of automobiles.
    In 2001, U.S. women’s purchasing power constituted the No. 3 market in the world; the collective buying power exceeded the entire economy of Japan.
    Four in 10 workingwomen work evenings, nights, or weekends on a regular basis, and 33% work shifts different from their spouses or partners.
    85% of working women report that flexible work schedules are of moderate or major importance to them.
    Four out of five women business owners have one employee and the fifth woman owner averages nine employees.
   While it is important to reflect on what your business is doing to reach out to women purchasers, it is equally important that we celebrate and recognize women in business and our work force.
   What can we do to stimulate mentorship, opportunities, training and support of female entrepreneurship?
   We can support organizations that mentor, train, and support women business owners and managers.
   Thank you to Whatcom Women in Business for recognizing some of our community leaders and congratulations to this year’s six honorees: Ramona Abbott, Sue Cole, Nancy Bitting, Marsha Lockhart, Audrey Borders and the 2006 winner: Kathy Cross.

Tom Dorr is the director of the Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University.



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