New Valley jobs will feature more women in charge by 2018

January 23, 2010 

The chances that the boss could be a woman are rising.

About one-third of new jobs expected to be created over the next eight years are predicted to be at small businesses owned by women, according to a report issued this month.

The New York-based Guardian Life Small Business Research Institute report called its projection "striking," since jobs at businesses owned by women currently make up 16% of the total.

The institute looked at the 15 million new jobs that the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates will be created by 2018. It also predicted that of jobs created by small businesses, more than half are expected to be created by businesses owned by women.

A variety of factors drive the prediction, according to the institute:

*Businesses owned by women are growing at a faster rate than those owned by men.

*Women have higher college graduation rates.

*Fields and occupations dominated by women are expected to grow in coming years.

*The tendency by businesses owned by women to be self-funded gives them an advantage in this economy.

*A frustration with the traditional corporate world encourages women to start their own businesses.

Local experts say incentives for the federal government to do business with businesses owned by women also play a role.

The projections ring true for Bryan Moe, director of the Central California Small Business Development Center, which advises local businesses.

"I've seen a huge growth in women-owned businesses," he said.

About half of the businesses that the center advises these days are owned by women, Moe said. Seven years ago it was rare for the center to even see a female business owner in its office, he said.

But not everyone believes that businesses owned by women will play such a big role in future job creation.

Bill Myers, a member of the board of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at California State University, Fresno, said he believes the projections are overly optimistic. Myers said businesses owned by women will likely create half the number of jobs projected by the institute.

That's due to the gender breakdown at the college level in fields like entrepreneurship, he said. Myers bases his projection on his experience mentoring students and speaking to classes at the Lyles Center.

"For every 100 students in the Lyles Center, 10 of them may be females," he said.

Yet some central San Joaquin Valley businesses owned by women are already growing, despite the recession.

Liesl Garner is the 51% majority owner of Clovis-based Garner Tree Services Inc., which she founded with her husband, a certified arborist.

Though she is not hiring now, Garner said she expects to in the future, to keep up with growing demand. The company, which trims and prunes trees, started with three employees in 2005 and has grown to 10, hiring even during the depths of the recession last year.

She attributes the company's success not to her gender, but to hard work, good marketing and a growing reputation.

"We play with our strengths," she said. "When we find something that isn't our area of strength, we find someone who can help us."

Incentives for government to contract with businesses owned by women contributes to the growth of jobs at those firms, said Kathy Bray, president of Denham Resources and former chairwoman of the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

The federal government has a goal of giving 5% of its contracts to business owned by women, which it regularly exceeds. And with more money being spent on contracts by the federal government, such as stimulus spending on highway construction, the opportunities for women likely will increase, Bray said.

"If the government expands, then businesses that get those preferences are probably going to expand and get that business," she said.

Garner agreed, saying: "Sometimes it helps to be minority-owned in a field that's very rarely owned by women."

The business must be 51% owned in more than just name, and Garner said she has to prove she does much of the work.

Businesses owned by women are less likely to rely on banks or venture capital funds, opting instead to use their own money or help from friends and family, said Mark Wolf, director of the institute. The institute is the research arm of the Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America, which serves individuals and small businesses.

Not relying on outside capital can be beneficial since lending standards have tightened during the recession, Wolf said.

Cynthia Downing said that has helped her business weather the recession. Downing owns Professional Exchange Service Corp., which runs an answering service, provides services for call centers and helps manage nonprofit corporations with services like bookkeeping and event planning.

"Over the course of my career, I have been extremely leery of credit. We have virtually no debt as a company," she said. "That has been a huge boon in terms of this bad economy."

Downing's business has been growing at a rate of about 20% annually over the past 10 years and continues to grow, she said.

As jobs at many businesses owned by women open up, more employees will find themselves with a female boss, Wolf said.

"The workplace is going to change," he said.

The reporter can be reached at bclough@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6431.

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