Report: La. ranks fourth in women-owned business growth

Louisiana has seen a dramatic increase since 1997 in the number of women-owned businesses and the amount of revenue generated by those companies, a new report shows.

Louisiana had the fourth-largest growth rate nationally in the number of businesses led by women, according to the third annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN.

According to U.S. Census Data, in 1997 there were 70,550 women-owned companies in the state. That number has grown to an estimated 129,800 over the last 16 years, an 84 percent increase. Only Georgia, Texas and North Carolina had a higher growth rate in the number of women-owned companies during that time period.

At the same time, revenues generated by women-owned businesses in Louisiana rose from nearly $11.5 billion in 1997 to an estimated $31.0 billion this year. That 170 percent increase was the second best in the country. Only the District of Columbia, which saw revenues go up 188 percent from $1.8 billion to $5.2 billion, did better.

Julie Weeks, a research adviser for American Express OPEN, said what was interesting is that during the same time, the number of people who worked for women-owned small businesses in Louisiana actually dropped by 8.6 percent from 1997 to 2013 — from 116,063 to 106,100.

“Possibly, what could be going on in Louisiana is the state is more likely to be dominated by small firms,” she said. “There might not be as much job creation with these small companies.”

Population displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina could also be a factor in the declining number of people who work for women-owned businesses in Louisiana.

Weeks noted that generally states that had strong increases in the number of women-owned businesses didn’t do as well in revenue and employment since that represents a number of young companies.

“Where you see a lower number of new businesses, you see more employment and revenue because these are more mature, more robust companies,” she said.

Will Campbell, director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at Southern University, said he has seen “a bunch of growth in women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses” in recent years. Campbell credits state and federal government programs with increasing the number of women entrepreneurs.

Nationally, the number of women-owned businesses increased 59 percent from 5.4 million in 1997 to 8.6 million in 2013. Revenues increased by 63 percent from nearly $819 billion in 1997 to $1.3 trillion in 2013.

At the same time, the diversity of women-owned businesses increased. The number of black, Asian and Latina women who owned businesses nationally more than doubled, something Weeks said is caused by immigration and the “glass ceiling” that still exists in the corporate world.

“This is a natural progression. These women are acquiring more education and more skills,” she said. “They can peel off and start their own businesses.”

Women are also opening businesses outside the traditional fields of health care and retail, Weeks said.

She pointed to Safe Haven Enterprises, a Jennings-based company founded by Alta Baker that specializes in custom-fabricated, blast-resistant buildings used in U.S. embassies worldwide.

Annie Venable is the owner of Leona Sue’s Florist, a Scott business that was founded by her mother in 1974. Venable started working at the flower shop in high school and took over the business four years ago.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Venable said.

Vendors in fields she works closely with, such as bakeries and caterers, are now dominated by women. Venable said she’s happy to see the changes, because she said women-owned businesses are more likely to give back to the community and be small, local companies.

“More women are career-oriented today and the entrepreneur spirit is so strong,” Venable said. “They’re learning to do something they love and make money at it.”