Maine may be a small state dominated by small businesses, but it has become a national leader when it comes to companies owned by women.

Women-owned businesses in Maine have been wildly successful over the past 20 years at creating jobs and boosting revenue, according to a new study.

From 1997 to 2017, Maine ranked No. 1 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia for revenue growth among women-owned businesses, and No. 2 for job growth, according to the seventh annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by the financial services firm American Express.

That growth is even more notable because fewer businesses were started by Maine women over the 20-year study period than in most other states, it said.

Most businesses in Maine are small and some are one-person operations, that can include anything from plumbers and accountants to people who sell crafts online. According to the report, Maine has an estimated 45,600 women-owned businesses that employ 49,900 workers and generate roughly $13 billion in annual sales.

Job creation among women- owned businesses in Maine was just over 76 percent from 1997 to 2017, compared with 27 percent nationally. Revenue growth among women-owned firms was 298 percent in Maine, compared with 103 percent nationally, it found.

Nancy Strojny, Portland chapter chairwoman of SCORE, the nation’s largest volunteer business mentoring service, said she isn’t surprised that women- owned businesses in Maine performed so well over the past 20 years.

Tristan Bean hands a customer their order at The Holy Donut shop in Scarborough, the newest location for the business that started out on Park Avenue in Portland. Staff photo by Derek Davis

Strojny said SCORE has a disproportionate number of women clients, about 61 percent, and that women have become more likely than men to start their own companies in Maine in recent years. The American Express report found that entrepreneurs who receive formal business training tend to generate more jobs.

Many women-owned firms in Maine begin as home-based businesses, often founded out of necessity, Strojny said.

“In a rural state like Maine, there aren’t enough big employers to go work for,” she said.

Therefore, many women have opted to create their own jobs by starting home-based businesses, Strojny said. Some of those have gone on to employ dozens, even hundreds, and generate millions of dollars in revenue. In general, rural states outperformed urban states when it came to economic growth among women-owned firms during the 20-year study period, according to the American Express report.

The overall revenue and job growth achieved by women- owned businesses in Maine is even more striking given its lower number in the growth of women-owned businesses. Maine ranked No. 48 for growth in the number of women-owned firms from 1997 to 2017 at 49 percent, compared with 114 percent nationally, it said.

The report, conducted by the research firm Ventureneer, relies on the most recent Survey of Business Owners data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2012. The numbers are then updated each year based on annual gross domestic product estimates at the national, state and metropolitan levels, as well as by industry.

One example of a successful Maine entrepreneur whose home-based business grew into something much larger is Leigh Kellis, owner of The Holy Donut. Kellis started in 2010 making doughnuts in her home and selling them to retailers. Now she owns three restaurants in the Portland area and employs 75 people.

“I started with zero money, just from the ingredients in my kitchen,” Kellis said.

Kellis said she thinks The Holy Donut has succeeded because people like her products and prefer to patronize locally based businesses. She has designed her restaurants specifically to emphasize the local connection.

“It feels personal. It’s not corporate,” she said.

Kellis said she does not emphasize the fact that her business is woman-owned, and she does not think of herself as a representative for all women entrepreneurs in the state.

“The only responsibility I feel is to my employees,” she said. “The responsibility lies in making sure we do well for the longevity of the jobs.”

Still, Kellis said Maine women tend to share a passion for what they do and an inventiveness that may be contributing to their success as business owners.

American Express research adviser Geri Stengel said that over the past year, Maine has continued to outpace the nation when it comes to revenue and job growth among women-owned businesses.

From 2016 to 2017, women- owned businesses in Maine had revenue growth of 15 percent, compared with 2.5 percent nationally, and job growth of 3.6 percent, compared with 2.7 percent nationally, she said.

“Even when you look at 2016 and 2017, we’re seeing very, very strong numbers for Maine,” Stengel said.

She noted that job growth in particular has been more concentrated among traditional businesses such as those in the retail, services and hospitality industries, as opposed to technology businesses that have tended to use automation to eliminate some jobs. Those traditional businesses are more prevalent in states such as Maine, she said.

“It’s traditional businesses that need employees and are in rural areas,” she said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jcraiganderson

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