WASHINGTON – Maryland has the second-highest percentage of women-owned businesses in the nation, according to new Census Bureau data, many of them new, small companies like Pam Young’s Eye of the Needle Embroidery.
Young founded her small embroidery business three years ago and runs it out of her Ellicott City home today with part-time help. But she’s stitched some big-time logos on caps, jackets and Oxford shirts.
Accounts include Howard County Transit and the Navy, but Young’s splashiest client is Hanover-based Nauticos, the ocean exploration company that says it may have found aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart’s plane more than three miles deep in the Pacific.
In Maryland, women like Young owned three out of 10 businesses in 1997, according a report this week from the Census Bureau. Women owned 115,800 of the state’s 400,000 non-farm businesses in 1997, or about 29 percent, slightly above the national average of 26 percent, according to a census sample survey of women-owned businesses every five years.
Only Nevada and Washington, D.C., had higher percentages of women-owned businesses, at about 31 percent each. Virginia was ranked fifth among states, at about 28 percent. In Delaware, women owned about 24 percent of businesses, the survey said.
Nationally, the number of women who owned businesses has steadily increased, with the bulk of the growth showing up as small businesses.
But Young and other businesswomen say the number of women-owned businesses might more closely reflect the number of women in America if some of the “old- boy” barriers were completely torn down.
“I think women still have a hard time getting loans, and it’s probably one of the reasons it’s 25 percent instead of 50 percent,” said Young, who launched her business in 1998 and has drawn about 100 clients.
Young has been lucky. She started out modestly and did not have to go to a bank for capital. Baldwin businesswoman Suzanne Harper Pearce said that even after a dozen years of successfully running Light Systems Inc., which sells energy-efficient lighting, her bank still saw her as a financial risk because she was a woman.
Pearce said it was not until she became so frustrated and “went to the bank and really started blowing up” that the bank manager finally agreed to review her account history and extend her line of credit.
Access to credit has improved from the days when a woman needed a man to co-sign a loan or credit-card application. But Pearce said there is still a glass ceiling holding women back.
Only about 2 percent of the seats on the top corporate boards in the nation are held by women, said Pearce, who received a Maryland’s Top 100 Women business award this year. The growing number of women business owners is only part of the puzzle, she said.
“It has no value until companies start putting women of this caliber, who have proven themselves, on the boards of directors of major corporations,” she said.