Female entrepreneurs leading economic resurgence

While recent headlines have captured the reemergence of robust corporations following a crippling recession, the news continues to overlook the everyday champions of our economy--women small business owners. 

Over the past six years, since the depth of the U.S. recession, the only businesses that have provided a net increase in employment are large, publicly traded corporations and privately held majority women-owned firms.  In all other privately held firms, employment has declined over the 2007–2013 period, yet women leaders have remained resilient, becoming unsung heroes and silently revitalizing the economy, one Main Street at a time. 

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Equipped with the right resources and adaptable skill sets, female entrepreneurs thrived during the financial crisis, quickly becoming one of the fastest growing sector of small businesses- a rare beacon of light in an otherwise bleak economy.  With 8.6 million businesses now owned by women across the country- employing over 7.8 million people and generating $1.3 trillion in sales as of 2013 - female entrepreneurship has skyrocketed, increasing nearly 60 percent since 1997.    

Women-owned firms (50 percent or more) account for 30 percent of all privately held firms and contribute 14 percent of employment and 11 percent of revenues. 

Without the perseverance of women small-business owners, the recession would have been more devastating and taken a far greater toll on our economy. Largely due to the ingenuity of these resourceful entrepreneurs, we are emerging from a downturn with a sense of optimism spearheaded by female leadership. And these businesses show no signs of halting their unheralded growth, with women-owned small businesses expected to yield 5.5 million new jobs across the United States by 2018. 

But this growth and renaissance has not happened simply overnight, rather it is the result of a commitment by the Small Business Administration and other private sector organizations to provide the critical ingredients—capital, training, and mentorship --to women in communities across the country pursuing their dream of business ownership. 

Despite this record growth, capital remains the biggest obstacle facing women-owned businesses.  According to the NAWBO 2013 State of Women-Owned Business Survey, nearly a quarter of women business owners did not seek a new loan or line of credit in the past year because they did not believe they would receive approval. This fear is not unproven: loan approval rates for women-owned companies are 15%-20% lower than they are for their male-owned counterparts. 

Given the success of female entrepreneurs and business owners, this lack of capital is stifling job creation, precisely when we need it most.  Expanding the opportunity of entrepreneurship and capital access for women is vital to our national success.  The risks of starting a business or operating your own enterprise are high and this is not a professional role suitable for everyone. Females, however, have demonstrated that when they do seize the opportunity, the economy benefits greatly. 

As I, along with other leaders in the small business community, convene on the Hill this week at the Small Business Lending & Investment Summit to highlight the correlation of small business lending and job creation and to focus attention on the available solutions to address market lapses, the timing could not be more advantageous. 

With new leadership at the helm of both the Small Business Administration and the Senate Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee, 2014 is the time to bolster financial resources and maintain critical access to capital for women across the country. In the year ahead, we want to continue working hand-in- hand with policymakers in Washington to empower female job creators with the capital they need- giving them the confidence to invest, grow and expand their operations. As the lifeblood of our economy, policymakers must ensure the successes of female entrepreneurs remain unfaltering and that these individuals are able to harness their unique strengths as we work to revitalize our economy, one woman business owner and one community at a time. 

Dragoo is the chair of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

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