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Women business owners are increasing substantially, and if they go through the proper channels there are several governmental organizations set up to play a support role in helping those companies thrive. But as many things associated with state and federal governments, a slow-moving bureaucracy can bog down by the process.
One of the biggest boons for women-owned businesses came in 1999, when Congress passes legislation that set aside contracts for women-owned companies in typically male-dominated industries. In addition, securing a federal contract can mean millions to a small and growing business. The legislation, however, hasn¡¦t quite worked out as planned.
¡§The number of women-owned businesses is astounding,¡¨ Susan Phillips Bari, president of the Women¡¦s Business Enterprise National Council told the Associated Press in a recent article. ¡§Our issue is not with the number of businesses, but rather with their access to contracts in the government and private sector.¡¨
The federal government¡¦s pledge of awarding 5 percent of federal contracts to women-owned firms fell short in 2004, coming in at 3 percent. In percentages, that may seem like a small number, but in dollars that number translates into the billions. Because of this shortfall, the U.S. Women¡¦s Chamber of Commerce went to court last fall, and won a hearing that demanded the Small Business Administration begin enforcing the 5 percent mark. With the court behind them, experts believe that government contract jobs will increase over the next few years for women-owned businesses.
If the government continues its support of women-owned companies, the number will no doubt continue to rise. The latest figures from the Small Business Administration puts the number of women business owners at 9.1 million. They have grown twice the national rate for all private companies from 1997 to 2002, with nearly one-third of them concentrated in health care and social services. These companies employ 27.5 million people and contribute an estimated $3.6 trillion to the U.S. economy. But along with the SBA¡¦s slow-footed approach to enforce the 1999 legislation, there are other unique obstacles women face in the world of business. This underlines the idea that women entrepreneurs shouldn¡¦t treat governmental support as an option, but as a necessity.
Women who own businesses are encouraged to be certified as a women¡¦s business and actively pursue not only government contracts, but corporate ones as well. Other governmental agency support for women includes:
X National Women¡¦s Business Council, an advisory board that helps define policy related to economic issues of women-owned firms;
X Women-21.gov, an informational site with articles, news and networking opportunities;
X Office of Women¡¦s Business Ownership, which has an office in every state offering training, technical assistance and access to federal contracts and international trade opportunities.
There is also the Center for Women¡¦s Business Research, which is funded by the SBA. The organization, which is one of the best sources for information, back up women-owned firms by helping them generate visibility, seek public and private sector support, and providing the fundamentals for starting a business, including information on taxes, training and securing capital.