There are more than 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the Unites States. They're worth over $1.4 trillion to the economy and account for 30% of all American businesses according to The 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report commissioned by American Express OPEN.
However, female entrepreneurs are not spread evenly across the country. Some states are significantly ahead of others, both in terms of absolute number and recent growth as shown by the maps below.
What do These Maps Show?
The first map uses data from the US Census Bureau to display the number of women-owned firms as a percentage of all the firms in each state or district. D.C. leads the way on this map with women owning 34.5% of the registered businesses in the area, 5.8% higher than the national average.
There's also a strong showing in the South. Georgia and New Mexico are both in the top five, with Florida, Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and Alabama all ranked in the top 20.
But it's when you look at the rate of growth of women-owned firms between 1997 and 2014 (shown on the second map) that the Southern states really start to dominate the rankings. 4 of the top 5 (and 7 of the top 10) states in terms of percentage growth are in the south of the country.
Is Georgia the Best State for Female Entrepreneurs?
Georgia is the only state that is ranked in the top 5 on both maps, and with a rate of growth of 117.9% over the last 17 years it could soon be out on its own. It's significantly ahead of second placed Texas (98.4%).
So why is the number of female entrepreneurs growing faster in Georgia than in any other state? There are certainly some great programs in place, like Atlanta's Women's Employment Opportunity Project (WEOP), and some fantastic organization, including the Greater Women's Business Council. But a lot of the reasons also explain why the number of female entrepreneurs is growing faster in all the Southern states.
Growth in the South
Georgia is leading the way, but the number of women-owned businesses is rising rapidly across the whole of the South. It's likely that this is a direct result of the lower cost of living, and the lower start-up costs enjoyed in Southern cities compared to more expensive metropolitan areas like New York, San Francisco and Boston.
In America women have more difficulty obtaining capital than men, so perhaps this is why the number of female entrepreneurs has grown more rapidly in less affluent areas on the United States over the last 17 years. When you consider that 97% of Silicon Valley start-ups are created by men this theory certainly fits.
A Long Way to Go
But even though the number of women-owned businesses is increasing fastest in the South, it's still far from a level playing field anywhere in the country. Research we conducted earlier in the year showed that women make up just 17% of all board members at FTSE100 listed companies.
To learn more about the process of starting a business in the South we spoke to Elizabeth Mack. Elizabeth is the owner and founder of the Freestyle Language Center, an innovative foreign language school based in Austin, Texas. She believes it is not any easier for female entrepreneurs in the South than anywhere else in the United States.
"Texas may be ranked second for the growth in woman-owned firms, but it doesn't mean it's particularly easy for women. It seems to be a symptom of previous low numbers, the strong Texas economy and the number of fearless women. Thanks to leaders like Ann Richards and Wendy Davis, there are lots of those!"
When we asked Elizabeth about her own experience of starting a business in Austin, Texas she told us:
"It's been easy to start a new business (as easy as starting a business can be!) in Austin because Austin is so unique and open to new concepts, not because Freestyle is a "woman-owned" business."
"Personally, I'd rather not be known for being a female or minority business owner. I'd rather be known as a decent leader with a purpose-driven mission to connect people through language. So, woman-owned is not a key part of the personality of this business - I'm happy that I don't hear, "wow, great business AND you're a woman!"
Despite the progress over the last 17 years the fact remains that not a single state in the US has more than 35% women owned businesses. It shows just how far we still need to come before the playing fields is even close to being level.
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