Regional Insights / Harold D. Miller: Fewer women-owned businesses, but better

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How many women-owned businesses are there in the Pittsburgh region? Are there more or fewer than in other regions? Data released this fall from the Census Bureau's 2002 Survey of Business Owners can provide some answers.

There were 44,287 women-owned firms in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in 2002, representing just above a quarter (26.5 percent) of all firms located in our region. That's the fourth-smallest percentage of any of the top 40 regions in the country. The highest percentage is in the Washington, D.C., region, where nearly a third (32.2 percent) of the businesses are owned by women. If the Pittsburgh region had the same percentage as the average of the top regions (28.8 percent), there would be nearly 4,000 more women-owned businesses here.

   

Harold D. Miller, former president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, manages Pittsburgh's Future LLC, a regional economic development policy initiative that publishes www.PittsburghFuture.com. His column looking beyond local statistics for insights into the regional economy appears monthly.

   

The vast majority of firms are sole proprietorships or partnerships with no employees. Although only 7,269 women-owned firms (16.4 percent) in the Pittsburgh region had paid employees, that's the fourth-highest percentage among the top 40 regions. As a result, the Pittsburgh region ranked 27th among the top 40 regions in the proportion of businesses with employees that were owned by women (15.5 percent).

Although we have fewer women-owned firms than other regions, the ones we have are bigger. Women-owned firms here ranked fifth in average sales/receipts per firm among the top 40 regions, and the subset with employees ranked 13th in average receipts. On average, the women-owned firms with employees in the Pittsburgh region had 8.7 employees, slightly more than most other regions, but the average salaries/wages paid by these firms were the lowest of any of the top regions.

The proportion of businesses with employees that are owned by women in the Pittsburgh region varies significantly across industries:

Only 4.2 percent of the finance and insurance businesses in the Pittsburgh region were owned by women, the lowest percentage among the 32 regions where the breakdown was available;

11.4 percent of manufacturing firms were owned by women, about average among other regions;

Nearly one-fourth (23.4 percent) of the accommodation and food services businesses were owned by women, the third-highest percentage among the 32 regions that reported this information;

Significantly fewer professional services firms and health care and social services firms were owned by women here than in other regions.

How is the size of the women-owned business community changing? Compared to 1997, when the last Economic Census was taken:

The total number of women-owned firms in the Pittsburgh region increased by only 10.2 percent, the fourth-smallest growth rate among the top 40 regions.

The average sales/receipts of all women-owned firms in the region increased by 11.8 percent, and among the subset of firms with paid employees, average sales/receipts increased by 17.6 percent, with both growth rates ranking eight-highest among the top 40 regions. In the majority of regions, sales/receipts of women-owned firms actually decreased during this period, although this may reflect the fact that 2002 was a recession year.

The good news is that the women-owned firms in the region seem to be doing better than their peers in other regions. The bad news is that we have fewer of them than most regions.

Large businesses can support women-owned businesses by seeking them out as suppliers, and by providing mentoring and support to women entrepreneurs.

If you'd like to help, you can contact organizations such as the National Association of Women Business Owners (www.nawbopittsburgh.org), the Women's Business Network of Southwestern PA (www.wbninc.com), the Women Presidents' Organization (www.womenpresidentsorg.com), PowerLink (www.powerlink.org), Seton Hill University's E-Magnify Women's Business Center (www.e-magnify.com), and Chatham College's Center for Women Entrepreneurship (www.chatham.edu/ccwe).


For more insight on the sources of growth in the region's economy, visit www.PittsburghFuture.com . Harold D. Miller, former president of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, manages Pittsburgh's Future LLC, a regional economic development policy initiative that publishes www.PittsburghFuture.com . His column looking beyond local statistics for insights into the regional economy appears monthly.


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