As October comes to a close, so too does National Women’s Small Business Month, a time to celebrate the growing achievements made by women in the small business community.
This month, much has been said on the great contributions women entrepreneurs have made for the American economy, while acknowledging the continued and unique challenges that they face because of their gender. But frankly, Americans should appreciate and take notice of the incredible benefits women entrepreneurs are making in our society year around. There is plenty to talk about.
Despite immense challenges, women’s entrepreneurship is thriving. Since 2007, there has been a 45 percent growth in the number of women owned firms, which translates to roughly five times the rate of all other firms. The Women’s Business Center Program, which is charged by the Small Business Administration to provide training, counseling, and access to capital to women entrepreneurs across the country, is a major contributor of these encouraging developments.
There is no doubt that in its 30 years, the WBC program has had a significant role in the rapid expansion of women-owned businesses, as well as a stimulant to the U.S. economy, but there are other ways that the WBCs contribute.
In a year that has witnessed an incredible number of natural disasters and devastation – from hurricanes ravaging Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico; to the deadly wildfires in northern California – perhaps it is more appropriate to focus on the lesser-known role that women’s business centers play: disaster relief.
According to FEMA, 40 percent of small businesses do not re-open after a disaster. The cost of repairing damages is often simply too high, and of those that do re-open, 52 percent of owners say it would take at least 3 months to recover. A recent article in Business Insider stated that many businesses in Texas affected by Hurricane Harvey expect revenues to continue to suffer over the next six months. Given the amount of time it takes to fully recover from a natural disaster, it is vital that these business owners have a sense of community and a supportive environment to help them through the recovery process. That is where WBCs enter the fray.
There are over 150 women’s business center locations throughout the United States, and thankfully, there are WBCs in each of the aforementioned disaster areas. This is important because these WBCs will have a critical role in helping business owners in those areas get back on their feet and walking toward the long and difficult path to recovery. The relationship WBCs establish with their clients is long-term and personal, typically serving them throughout the life cycle of their business. Helping clients impacted by disasters is a pivotal piece of this long-term relationship.
Those that have been effected by the storms can visit a local WBC – such as the Houston Galveston Women’s Business Center Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA) located in Houston, or the Women’s Business Centre at The Helen Gordon Davis Centre for Women located in Tampa – for assistance with disaster loan application paperwork and processing, assistance with developing a plan for applying disaster loan funds to their businesses, and assistance in securing disaster-response contracts with the federal government to provide supplies and services to assist in relief and recovery efforts. There are also WBCs located in Puerto Rico, Louisiana, and northern California, and all are ready and able to assist business owners affected by the storms.
Reports show that 80 percent of businesses that receive technical assistance survive after five years, as opposed to 50 percent of all U.S. businesses. If more small businesses receive support like that offered by WBCs, then the 40 percent FEMA statistic mentioned earlier can surely be reduced.
In light of National Women’s Small Business Month, take some time to appreciate how far women have come: they now own over 35 percent of all businesses in America. But also acknowledge the incredible work done by programs like the Women’s Business Center Program, that go beyond the call of duty to provide critical relief to women (already suffering a natural disadvantage) who’s businesses have been harmed by recent natural disasters.
Thanks to the efforts of WBCs, their businesses will weather the storms and thrive towards a greater tomorrow.