Professional and financial support for women entrepreneurs appears to be increasing in Rhode Island, ranging from established organizations such as The Women’s Fund of Rhode Island and the Center for Women & Enterprise to newer groups like the PVD Lady Project, whose co-founder, Sierra Barter, explained the group’s mission as to “connect, inspire and showcase awesome women doing amazing things in Providence.”
But while promotion of entrepreneurial women in Rhode Island may be gaining visibility, they haven’t reached enough of a critical mass to keep up with women in the rest of the U.S., as far as women-owned companies.
Women entrepreneurs in the Ocean State are far behind the rest of the country in terms of their companies creating employment opportunities and bringing in revenue, according to a report by American Express Open, “The 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report,” published in March.
On the positive side, the number of women-owned firms in Rhode Island increased by 42 percent over the last 16 years, according to the report. But that’s behind the national increase of 59 percent of women-owned firms.
The glaring issue in Rhode Island is that employment in women-owned firms has dropped by 8,000, or 28 percent, since 1997, according to the report.
“In terms of shrinking employment, down 28 percent is fairly startling, certainly,” the author of the report, Julie Weeks, a research adviser on women’s business issues based in Michigan, told Providence Business News.
“What we’re seeing is that in Rhode Island, existing firms aren’t growing as fast as existing women-owned firms in other parts of the country,” said Weeks, who is on the board of the national Association of Women’s Business Centers.
Rhode Island ranked 48th in the nation in terms of combined economic clout of women-owned businesses. That ranking is based on growth in three categories – number of firms, revenue and employment.
The Ocean State has 39,100 women-owned businesses, according to Marcia Coné, CEO of the Women’s Fund, which invests in women through research, advocacy and grants.
“We are actually growing in terms of women-owned businesses, but we are at the bottom in terms of revenue and job creation. I’m not happy about it, but it’s not a surprise,” said Cone.