Written by The Business Journal Staff
According to a report released last year by the National Women’s Business Council, the number of women-owned firms jumped 26 percent between 2007 and 2012. The 2012 numbers are the most recent available and showed more than 9.8 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. that year.
The overwhelming majority of the studied firms — 89.5 percent — employed no individuals other than the female owner, however, and reported total receipts of just over $182.2 billion.
Various government organizations have established programs specifically designed to address the slow-growth trend and help women-owned businesses expand their footprint. Among them are the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Women Owned Small Business (WOSB) and Economically Disadvantaged Women Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certifications.
The programs require businesses to demonstrate a minimum of 51 percent ownership by one or more woman and that she be actively involved in the company’s management.
“They have to really be very hands-on in the day-to-day operations of the business,” said Dawn Golik, deputy director and public affairs officer with the SBA’s Fresno District Office. The office’s territory stretches from Kern to Stanislaus counties and includes part of the Central Coast.
To qualify for the EDWOSB certification, businesses must demonstrate that the owner’s net worth is less than $750,000, her adjusted gross yearly income average from the three years prior to applying did not exceed $350,000 and the fair market value of all her assets does not exceed $6 million.
Women-owned firms approved for EDWOSB certification are also automatically eligible for the WOSB program.
To qualify for either program, businesses can either self-certify or go through one of four SBA-approved partners.
However, Golik said the process is generally simple enough to handle on one’s own.
“It’s kind of like doing your own taxes. You just need to gather your financials and tax returns,” she said.
Both certifications have been around for years but have become increasingly valuable resources for Central Valley businesses as a result of the high-speed rail project.
Earlier this decade the California High Speed Rail Authority established a goal to award 30 percent of all project contracts to small businesses. Qualifying firms must be recognized and properly certified by the SBA, effectively opening the door for many WOSB and EDWOSB groups.
“It gives them a competitive edge and opens the door to new contracts that might otherwise have been out of reach,” Golik said. “We’ve really been trying to spread the word as the opportunity to bid for work under high-speed rail has grown.”
Since the construction and engineering industries are traditionally male-dominated fields, the office has been especially mindful to get the message out regarding the increase in local government contracts for WOSB firms, she said.
Among the few local women-owned groups taking advantage of the opportunity is MJ Avila Company Inc. Founded by Mary Jo Avila in 2005, the company offers general contracting and engineering services for civil, agriculture and government projects.
MJ Avila Company has been a WOSB firm for more than seven years, and Avila said she was initially encouraged to begin the certification process by one of her clients in order to gain more recognition for the company.
“Having the WOSB certification has opened avenues I would otherwise take longer to reach,” she said. “It has helped MJ Avila compete in additional markets and expand its territories and qualifications.”
Avila said the firm has been awarded several government contracts since becoming WOSB-certified, including a bid on high-speed rail phase two and three from Fresno to Kings County. The government work has helped the company add more jobs and expand the business.
“Getting any certification is a step in the process to opening doors, however the hard work is always in running the business and performing your services to meet your customer’s needs,” she said. “The MJ Avila team philosophy is to be responsive to customer’s needs, engage in our project, consider value engineering opportunities throughout the process and to deliver a quality product we are proud of.”
The company is among 149 companies currently WOSB and/or EDWOSB-certified within Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties. That figure is likely only a small fraction of the total number of women-owned businesses within the Central Valley however, and Golik said the SBA strongly encourages companies to look into the program.
“We support all entrepreneurs but have identified three services in particular which are beneficial for women,” she said.
Capital, counseling and contracting opportunities are some of the major areas where most women-owned businesses struggle, according to the SBA. While the WOSB program mainly focuses on creating new contracting resources for female entrepreneurs, the government group also offers business-counseling services specifically designed for women.
Additionally, the SBA coordinates small business loans of up to $5 million through its certified network of lenders. The funds can be used for any cost associated with expanding or operating a small business, and the Fresno office has begun hosting monthly workshops to help spread the word.
“People think they need to pay for those types of consults and financial services. They are always amazed that we offer them here,” Golik said.