Reclaiming ‘the Missing Middle’

SBA Stakes Out Strategies to Help Women-owned Businesses Grow

By KAREN GORDON MILLS
Today, women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing segment of new businesses in our economy.
In fact, an analysis by American Express suggests that the number of women-owned businesses has risen by 200,000 over the past year alone, which is equivalent to just under 550 new women-owned firms created each day.
Regardless of how you slice the data, we know that this trend is growing and that women are over-indexing in entrepreneurship.
As administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), I’ve traveled all around the country meeting with small-business owners and entrepreneurs. I see how their businesses are transforming their industries and rebuilding their communities following the economic downturn.
These are businesses like UEC Electronics in South Carolina. Rebecca Ufkes, an engineer and the company’s president, is laser-focused on growing her successful electronics manufacturing business. She is supplying products to major manufacturers, such as Boeing, Cummins Engine Co, as well as the U.S. Marines and Air Force. And she is creating good American manufacturing jobs in the process.
UEC employs 194 workers, an increase of 49% since August 2011. And Rebecca is part of a growing American supply chain of innovative small businesses that is driving large, multi-national manufacturers to bring more production back to the U.S.
However, today, many women-owned entrepreneurs face what we call the ‘missing middle.’
For example, take my home state of Maine. According to the most recent census data, men owned 54% of businesses in Maine, and women owned 26% of businesses in the state (the remainder were co-owned). However, when you look at the receipts of these businesses, women-owned businesses lagged behind, capturing only 7% of receipts, compared to 78% of receipts earned by male-owned firms. A similar trend is occurring in states across the country.
Clearly, women-owned firms are growing greater in numbers, but challenges persist in scaling their operations and garnering market share.
At the SBA, we have the proven tools needed to bridge that missing middle, and to ensure that all entrepreneurs have the tools they need to grow their businesses, reach new markets, and realize their full potential. These include:
• Access to capital. According to the Urban Institute, SBA loans are three to five times more likely to go to women- and minority-owned businesses than conventional loans. And since President Obama took office, SBA has supported more than $12 billion in lending through more than 35,000 SBA loans to women-owned businesses.
• Contracting. At the SBA, one of our priorities is making sure that more qualified women-, veteran-, and minority-owned small businesses have access to government and commercial supply-chain opportunities. That’s why we put into place the Women’s Contracting Rule, which means that, for the first time, federal agencies can set aside contracting opportunities for women-owned small businesses in more than 300 industries where women are underrepresented. Congress gave SBA this authority in 2000, but it was never implemented. Under President Obama’s leadership, we have made it a priority — and have gotten it done. And recently, we expanded the limits to ensure that women-owned businesses are eligible for larger government contracts.
• Counseling. Our Office of Women’s Business Ownership oversees a national network of 106 Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) that support women who want to start or grow their business. We’re connecting with more women every day, and, in FY 2012 alone, we counseled and trained more than 136,000 women entrepreneurs.
We are committed to helping women entrepreneurs because we know how much potential they have to contribute to America’s economic growth. n

Karen Gordon Mills is a former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. This article first appeared on the SBA’s community blog;
www.sba.gov

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