By STEPHANIE GLEASON
WASHINGTON (December 8, 2010)Maryland enjoys the highest percentage of women-owned businesses of any state except the District of Columbia, census statistics released Tuesday show.
"We used to be in the top 10, but we were never No. 2," said Joanne Saltzberg, CEO of Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore. "It's very good news for Maryland."
The 2007 census figures show that women in Maryland own 33 percent of businesses, up from 31 percent in 2002, the last time the survey was conducted. That rate outstrips the nationwide pace of increasing women's ownership. Nationally in 2007, 29 percent of businesses were women-owned, up from 28 percent in 2002.
The bump has come without any specific Maryland legislation driving it, according to Saltzberg.
"We have not had any legislative pushes for women-owned businesses," she said, in terms of "political programming and policy (for women-owned businesses), Maryland's not one of the most aggressive states in the union."
Instead, Saltzberg attributes Maryland's success to other factors. Entrepreneurship thrives here "because we have a highly educated workforce and we have the government, you certainly can't minimize that.
"Then there's D.C., which has for a long time been the leader for women-owned businesses. Some of this is momentum."
Elena Woods, owner of RetroBlue Agency, a Baltimore advertising firm, said the growth of women-owned businesses in Maryland is due to the support of state offices like the Maryland Department of Transportation Minority Business Enterprises and the Small Business Administration of Baltimore.
The resources available to women-owned businesses in Maryland and the district "allow women to pursue opening a business and stay in business," Woods said.
The Economic Census Survey is conducted only every five years, so the new release of the 2007 numbers don't reflect the economic downturn. And it's somewhat unclear how women businesses may have fared during this time.
"One can only speculate" about the effect the recession has had on women-owned businesses, said Rebecca Blank, acting deputy secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce. But, women-owned businesses tend to be in sectors of the economy, like health care and social assistance, she said, that have been driving the economy during the recession.
"Everyone's been badly hit, but (women-owned businesses) might be better off," Blank said.
This is especially true in Maryland where 59 percent of health care firms are women-owned, compared to 52 percent nationally.
Alternatively, women-owned businesses tend to be smaller, which means the impact of the recession could have been greater, Blank said. Nationally, 55 percent of women-owned businesses have one to four employees.
"I think there's no question, if you look at the percentage of women-owned businesses that are one or two employees, it's much higher," Saltzberg said. The businesses are "still mostly self-funded. Access to credit is a huge issue."
But being small isn't always bad during a recession, Saltzberg said. Small women-owned businesses are more agile and better able to weather the storm.
Right now, Elena Woods is running RetroBlue by herself with a few contractors. She would like to hire more people, but the economic conditions haven't allowed for it.
"I'm praying that this lets up because I really want to hire people," Woods said, "All I need is one good contract."
Woods said that being a woman-owned business has helped during the recession. "Women are still able to share their experiences with each other. A couple times I wanted to throw up my hands and say 'I'm done.' But I don't do it. Every time I go to a networking opportunity it makes me back up and say 'tough it out.'"
"Women are so passionate. Once we give something our all, we're not willing to walk away from it just because we had a bad day. We're not emotional in that aspect," Woods said. "It's a reflection of the women in this area."
"Nobody knows what these last two years have done," Saltzberg said. But, "we're in a state where women-owned businesses have been thriving. Everything I see experientially supports that energy. There's just no question. Women are doing it by themselves and they're doing it by their bootstraps."