As a woman entrepreneur in the male-majority aerospace and engineering industry, it’s important to step back every now and then and get perspective on the growing influence women are having on business as a whole, including their impact on the local and national economies.  Women, according to a recent study by the White House Project, make up approximately 18 percent of the nation’s top business leaders; and approximately 30 percent of American small business owners according to the latest census.

The percentages have been steadily growing and fueling the influence of women on communities across the nation, especially in economic development.  Nationally, according to the census report, the number of women-owned businesses grew 20 percent between 1997 and 2002, twice the national average for all businesses.  This is significant when you consider that small business is responsible for the majority of employment.

When I started Craig Technologies ten years ago, I did not view it as a means to create jobs and new wealth in local communities such as Brevard.  But as it turns out, that is what I – and about 12,500 other women-owned businesses along the Space Coast, and about 6.5 million women–owned businesses across the nation – are doing.  The number of high-caliber women participating in the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast is indicative of the growing corps of female entrepreneurs and business leaders that is propelling our economy nationwide.

In spite of Brevard’s high technology focus, local businesses are more than 30 percent women-owned, in-line with national statistics, and surprisingly higher than the state’s business make-up.  The Census Bureau’s 2002 Survey of Business Owners, which is the most recent data available, also reports that Brevard’s women-owned businesses account for more than $1 billion in annual sales, even with the majority being one-person operations.

Programs like the Small Business Development Center at Brevard Community College and the Women’s Business Center at Florida Tech are making strides to nurture more women-owned enterprises.  They have exceptional programs to assist women in developing their ideas into businesses – drawing from local expertise and working with community business organizations like the EDC and Brevard Workforce.

The WBC at Florida Tech provides training, counseling, mentoring and technical assistance targeting women entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses in Brevard, Indian River, and St. Lucie counties.  Their training, resources, and services include onsite and remote training on a wide range of business topics and online counseling sessions with knowledgeable mentors.  They also host events and activities to build small business support systems.

The BCC SBDC assists entrepreneurs through counseling, seminars, workshops and staff and volunteer business professionals who serve as consultants to new business owners.  They offer women (and men) at various stages of business development information and training on the basics of starting a business, including financing, management, taxes, government contracting and even energy conservation.

These types of assistance programs for women-owned small businesses are becoming more prevalent across the nation.  Economic development practitioners are realizing that more successful small businesses create more jobs and stronger economies.  Society in general is also becoming more accepting of women as business leaders.

According to the White House Project study, about 89{099636d13cf70efd8d812c6f6a5a855fb6f8f27f35bea282d2df1d5ae896e2c2} of Americans are comfortable with women leaders across industries.  In 2002, that number was 77 percent, a 12 percent jump in five years.  Perhaps the growing acceptance is because there are more visible women leaders or an overall narrowing gap in perceptions of differences in women and men in business.  Either way, more women-owned businesses mean more businesses in general, which is what our economy needs to stabilize and grow.