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Women-owned businesses growing, but slower in MA

Posted by Jason Keith  April 12, 2012 09:00 AM

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In previous posts, I've highlighted how small business growth is alive and well within the state of Massachusetts. According to a recent survey though, women-owned business growth here in the Commonwealth isn't as high as it has been across the rest of the country.

Massachusetts had an estimated 193,900 women-owned firms, employing 173,600 and attributing to roughly $29,365,800 billion in revenue for last year, according to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by American Express OPEN. The survey, which analyzed census data over the previous 15 years, from 1997-2011, came to a number of interesting findings on a national level, including:

  • As of 2011, it is estimated that there are over 8.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States, generating nearly $1 .3 trillion in revenues and employing nearly 7 .7 million people. Between 1997 and 2011, when the number of businesses in the United States increased by 34%, the number of women-owned firms increased by 50%?a rate 1½ times the national average .

  • Despite the fact that the number of women owned firms continue to grow at a rate exceeding the national average, and account for 29% of all enterprises, women-owned firms only employ 6% of the country?s workforce and contribute just under 4% of business revenues.

But while the national numbers were great to see in terms of growth for women-owned businesses, Massachusetts was ranked 34 (35.9%) in growth of number of firms over the past 15 years and 19 (75.3%) in growth of firm revenue between 1997 and 2012. Out of the top 25 metropolitan areas, Boston ranked 19 (19.8%) in growth of number of firms over the past 15 years and 19 (26.1%) in growth of firm revenue between 1997 and 2012. According to Julie Weeks, an American Express OPEN research advisor, the majority of businesses in the survey are very small. 

"Based on the data in our report, the 8.3 million women-owned firms have an average of 1.9 employees, including the owner, and generate average revenues of $154,724 in revenues," she said. What this means is that the majority of women-owned businesses fall squarely in the "micro business" category, or small businesses with between 1-10 employees that I've talked about many times in recent posts.

The question in response to this data is, would Massachusetts as a state be considered less than ideal when it comes to starting a business, especially for women? "Typically, the factors that help ascertain the ranking of one state or metro area over another are related to overall population trends (is a state growing or shrinking in terms of the number of its residents) and the state/city economic climate in terms of unemployment rate, growth in GDP, etc."

Outside of those factors, Weeks cited some other examples of influences that might cause women-owned businesses to start or grow in a given area, including whether or not the government has specific programs addressing women-owned firms - like a woman's business ombudsman, procurement policies, or trade assistance outreach; or whether or not the state/city has a women's business center and how many active and visible women's business associations there are in the area.

Massachusetts has been accused in the past of being somewhat unfriendly to small business growth, given the amount of red tape that exists and regulations that need to be followed. Governor Patrick admitted as much earlier this year when unveiling a new plan designed to curb red tape and streamline processes as it relates to small businesses.

What was interesting about Massachusetts, according to the study, is that women-owned firms ranked higher in revenue and employment growth (19th and 24th) than in growth in the number of women-owned firms (34th). This indicates that - statewide at least - there is more growth in the economic clout of existing women-owned firms than in the start-up of new women-owned firms. But in the city of Boston, that trend changed, where the rankings were consistent when comparing growth in the number of firms with revenue and employment growth. "This indicates that new women-owned firm starts are better in the Boston metro area than in the rest of the Commonwealth," Weeks said.

Finally, employment across all Massachusetts women-owned firms increased 11.9% (higher than the 8.8% nationwide average) over the 15 year period of the study.

Are you surprised by the data that Massachusetts doesn't rank highly in terms of growth for women-owned businesses?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email

This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.

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