The number of women-owned businesses in Maine has grown more than 34 percent since 1997, but the growth rate lags behind the country as a whole by about half.
However, the growth in the number of women-owned firms in the state — as in the rest of the country — exceeded the growth rate for men-owned businesses or businesses with a combined ownership in that same time period.
Those findings were recently released as part of the 2014 annual American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. The study analyzed data from the 1997, 2002, and 2007 U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners to estimate the expected number of firms, employment totals and annual revenue of women-owned businesses.
Although the growth slowed in the last seven years compared to earlier periods, women-owned firms have added an estimated 274,000 jobs since 2007 while employment has declined in that same period among men-owned and equally-owned firms, according to the report.
Maine ranked 47th out of the 50 states and Washington D.C. for the report’s economic clout ranking, which includes the growth in number, revenue and employment of women-owned firms.
The lead researcher for the report, Julie Weeks, said the low ranking likely reflects the state’s low population growth.
“States that are not growing as fast in terms of bodies, they aren’t going to have as many businesses,” Weeks said.
The number of women-owned companies in Maine grew 34.6 percent since 1997, compared with nearly 68 percent in the entire country, but the number of all firms in the state increased by only 24 percent, Weeks said.
The report found that although the 9.1 million women-owned companies in the U.S. now account for about 30 percent of all enterprise, they only employ 6 percent of the country’s workforce and contribute less than 4 percent of total revenue, roughly the same share they contributed in 1997.
Weeks said one way to build up women-owned businesses is through women business centers, which often give more relational support than just one-time counseling at traditional business support centers.
In Maine, the Women’s Business Center at Coastal Enterprises, Inc. provides business counseling and workshops for people looking to launch a business or for business owners looking to grow or maintain their ventures. The services, often free, are targeted for women but available to anyone.
The Women’s Business Center at CEI, funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration, has four counselors who serve different regions covering the state.
The counselor serving central and western Maine, Betty Gensel, said she provides clients an objective perspective to their businesses. It can be difficult for some people to separate business decisions from their emotional attachment to the business, Gensel said.
She said the center’s goal is to help people succeed by getting them to recognize their strengths and giving advice on things such as marketing their products and managing employees, as well as encouraging them to see themselves as successful.
“It’s getting them out of their comfort zones and really looking to develop and skills to carry the business forward,” she said.
During the organization’s last fiscal year, the center counseled 554 clients, assisted 229 businesses and helped create 140 jobs, according to Gensel.
One of Gensel’s clients, Lisa Standish, owner of Mountain Village Farm B&B in Kingfield, said she sought advice when launching her business in 2004 and again when she needed to refinance her mortgage.
Standish said Gensel has been an incredibly valuable and useful resource for her by helping organize the bed and breakfast’s finances and by connecting Standish with people from financial institutions.
“Working with numbers is not my forte, and I can get easily stressed, but Betty really brings me back to my center with her calmness,” Standish said.
“I feel like I just don’t have time for this, and she just brings that âdon’t worry, we’ll get it done’ kind of attitude to what I have to do. That really restores my ability to continue,” she added.
Another one of Gensel’s clients, Susan Parker, said the Women’s Business Center and Gensel have helped her off and on for the last two years.
Parker, of Winthrop, sells her zucchini relish under her Susan’s Relish the Moment brand to grocery stores and markets all over New England, including Whole Foods in Portland and all of the state’s Reny’s Department Stores.
But before she launched two and a half years ago, Parker had no business experience. She said Gensel has helped her figure out how to do everything from marketing to taxes.
“When I first started, I just had a product and a passion,” Parker said.
Now Gensel is helping Parker write a business plan to try to secure funding to expand her business.
“It’s been an uplifting experience, always caring,” Parker said of working with the business center. “It’s not just business. It’s personal.”