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Senators have chance to double funding for women entrepreneurs—they should take it

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For over 30 years, the Women’s Business Center program under the Small Business Administration has provided business training, counseling, mentoring and access to capital to women entrepreneurs nationwide. Each center receives an annual grant of up to $150,000—an amount that has not changed in 31 years—for a total federal expenditure of $18.5 million.

This summer, all of us who have spent decades lobbying Congress on behalf of women entrepreneurs and the Women’s Business Centers got wonderful news, though. The House of Representatives, in response to our advocacy, passed a spending bill recommending a record $35 million for the program—an almost two-fold increase.

However, in order for this funding to become reality, the Senate must also pass its spending bill so Congress can agree on a final number. Unfortunately, the Senate’s bill once again allocated just $18.5 million.

That’s not good enough.

Lawmakers have until Nov. 21 to pass new funding. As senators debate what programs to fund and which to cut, it’s important they remember that Women’s Business Centers aren’t just a line item on a spreadsheet. These women business owners create jobs and contribute substantially to local economies in their states. They are active community stakeholders, and they vote.

They’re women like Jameka Smith, a veterinarian who owns two pet hospitals in Sacramento, Calif., and is about to open a third thanks to coaching and financing she received from her local center, California Capital WBC. She has 20 employees and grossed $1.8 million this year, a 13 percent increase over last year. This translates to more taxes paid, more household income and a richer and more diverse business culture.

The Women’s Business Center program operates 114 centers nationwide and provides services to more than 150,000 entrepreneurs annually. Those 150,000 entrepreneurs receive vital business training, one-on-one mentoring and access to capital. These services are critical: when a business owner receives training, she is 80 percent more likely to still be in business three years later and will create two additional jobs, according to the Aspen Institute’s Field Program. But there are 12 million women business owners in the U.S. More resources are needed to bring proven support to those job creators.

Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, should be particularly interested. Alabama has 152,800 women-owned businesses that generated $18.7 billion in revenues last year – one of the fastest growth rates in the country. Vermont also stands out among northeastern states for women entrepreneurship: women own 23,400 businesses, employ 36,300 people and generate annual revenues of $2.2 billion. Imagine what the three Women’s Business Centers in Alabama and Vermont could accomplish if they doubled their budgets?

Women’s entrepreneurship has exploded over the past few decades. If American women business owners were their own country, they would have the 10th largest GDP in the world, outstripping entire nations like Canada, Mexico and Russia. Better supporting that ecosystem just makes economic sense—the return on investment would be huge.

Increasing the program’s funding to $35 million would serve significantly more women and provide better services. In fact, with matching state funds it would lead to a $100 million investment each year in our women entrepreneurs and return nearly $5 billion to local economies.

As the Senate considers the appropriations bill, lawmakers should think about the added economic output women business owners could create with this modest investment.

It’s an opportunity not to be missed.

Claudia Viek is the CEO of the Invest in Women Entrepreneurs Initiative, a national, bi-partisan organization working to significantly increase resources that support the growth of women-owned businesses by leveraging private, corporate, and government grants and capital. Corinne Hodges is the CEO of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, a national non-profit organization which works to secure economic justice and entrepreneurial opportunities for women by supporting and sustaining the national network of over 100 Women’s Business Centers.

Tags Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby

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