Study finds increase in women-owned businesses in Montana, nationally

Montana has seen a 67-percent increase in the number of businesses owned by women over the past 20 years, such as the Empanada Joint in downtown Missoula.

Montana has seen a 67-percent increase in the number of businesses owned by women over the past 20 years, though it remains 32nd nationally for increasing those numbers, according to a report released Thursday.

The annual State of Women-Owned Business Report, commissioned by American Express, found that the number of businesses owned by women in the U.S. has more than doubled over the past two decades.

Across the country, nearly 850 women start a business each day, a 3-percent increase over the prior year.

“We’re encouraged to see that the amount of female-owned businesses in the U.S. has more than doubled in 20 years,” said Susan Sobbott, president of American Express Global Commercial Payments. “Championing women-owned businesses strengthens our economy, individual communities and helps inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs.”

According to the report, Montana has an estimated 37,400 women-owned businesses that employ around 35,000 people. Together, those businesses contributed roughly $4.7 million to the state economy last year.

When compared nationally, Montana ranks 32nd in its growth of women-owned firms over the past 20 years. When compared to the growth in jobs created by women-owned businesses, the state ranks 7th with a 57-percent increase.

“Historically speaking, women have represented less than 50 percent of the business owners, and some of that stereotype still happens,” said Jennifer Stephens, the regional director of the Small Business Development Center in Missoula. “It’s still something women have to face today.”

But Stephens believes the numbers are trending in the right direction, and she sees success in the number of women running economic development programs at the University of Montana and across the community.

The Gilkey Center for Executive Education at the University of Montana is headed by Kate McGoldrick, while Amita Greer heads the Montana Code School. Stephens leads the local SBDC and Kim Latrielle heads the Missoula Chamber of Commerce.

“There are lots of women helping women in the business community,” said Stephens. “I want business women to know there’s women at the helm of those programs to help with all businesses, but it helps with the accessibility to know women are running those businesses.”

The new national study attributes the growth in women-owned businesses in part to higher unemployment rates and the gender pay gap. Such statistics have led to greater growth in businesses owned by minority women.

While the number of women-owned businesses grew 114 percent nationally over the past 20 years, firms owned by women of color grew at more than four times that rate at 467 percent, according to the study.

Blackstone LaunchPad at UM has also worked to encourage women to start their own business. In 2015, the organization received a grant from the Kauffman Foundation to study women’s participation in entrepreneurship. The resulting research provided several insights to help increase the number of women starting businesses.

Paul Gladen, the organization’s director, said that as a result of that research and the Pursue Your Passion program, LaunchPad has seen significant increases in female entrepreneurs.

“The Blackstone LaunchPad at the University of Montana is highly proactive in encouraging women to start their own business,” said Gladen. “Our Pursue Your Passion program specifically targets female students and helps them explore how their passion could be the foundation for starting a business or a non-profit organization.”