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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Opportunities and Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs on the 20th Anniversary of the Women's Business Ownership Act

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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Opportunities and Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs on the 20th Anniversary of the Women's Business Ownership Act

Statement of Senator John F. Kerry

Good morning and welcome. Thank you all for coming. I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts and experience with us. I am also glad to see the tremendous turnout this morning. I know that there were so many people who wanted to be at the table and to be involved in the discussion, and it is great to have that level of enthusiasm.

This roundtable is the second roundtable this year that focuses on women business issues. In March, the Committee held a roundtable in Massachusetts called "Women in Business: Leveling the Playing Field." I am glad to see our discussion on these important issues continue here today.

The roundtable today is an official event of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. As such, it will be recorded and used to inform the actions of the Committee. Your comments and experiences will be valuable to the Committee in developing policy and legislation to support women's entrepreneurship. The record will be kept open for two weeks so that everyone who would like to can submit comments.

Before I begin, I would like to extend a special welcome to Kip Hollister from Boston, Massachusetts. Congratulations to you on the 20th anniversary of your business. I have been told that you have accomplished a great deal -- overcoming tough economic times-- and yet you are still persevering and flourishing. Eighty employees with revenues of $26 million. That is truly impressive, and I congratulate you on your accomplishments.

I also want to extend a warm welcome to Trish Costello, also from Massachusetts, who is here from Babson College. I know you attended the last roundtable that we had in Massachusetts, and I am glad to see you as a participant here today.

As you all know, twenty years ago, Congress passed H.R. 5050, the Women's Business Ownership Act - the first comprehensive small business legislation aimed to help women entrepreneurs succeed. This bill was the culmination of a movement that began in the 1960s to address economic inequalities between men and women and continued with changes such as passage of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974. Women leaders pushed to move the Women's Business Ownership Act forward, an important step in the tremendous growth of women-owned businesses we have seen over the last two decades.

The Women's Business Ownership Act created Women's Business Centers, which provide consulting and training to women seeking to start or grow a business. I know firsthand the tremendous positive impact of this program, through the work of the Center for Women and Enterprise in Boston and Worcester. Since 1995, the three branches of this center have helped over 14,000 entrepreneurs.

H.R. 5050 also created the National Women's Business Council, which presents policy advice on women small business issues to Congress and the President; required the Census Bureau to include women business owners in its business survey ; and called for all agencies to report on any new contracts with women-owned firms, one of the earliest efforts to get our arms around the problem of women not getting their fair share of federal contracts.

According to data that the Center for Women's Business Research will officially release tomorrow, which they have shared with us - between 1977 and 2002, the number of women-owned businesses grew by a whopping 824 percent. The new 2008 numbers also show that 7.2 million firms were owned by women. These firms employed 7.3 million workers and created $1.1 trillion in revenue.

However, despite their recent successes, women-owned small businesses still continue to lag behind their male counterparts in important areas. Women-owned firms have lower revenues and fewer employees than their male-owned counterparts. Eighty percent of women-owned firms have revenues under $50,000, and, although 6 percent of men-owned businesses have revenues of $1 million or more, only 3 percent of all women-owned firms do. Women-owned firms often have fewer employees, as only 16 percent of all firms with employees are owned by women. And, in federal procurement, women-owned firms receive less than 3.5 percent of all federal contracts, a troubling situation.

Understanding what causes these differences and taking steps to address them is important to the strength of the United States economy, particularly important during these tough economic times. As reported in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2007 Report on Women and Entrepreneurship, "ignoring the proven potential of women's entrepreneurial activity means that countries put themselves at a disadvantage and thwart their opportunity to increase economic growth."

In reviewing the last 20 years, it is disturbing to see that the issues that were hindering women entrepreneurs from achieving their full economic potential back then are still barriers today. Access to capital, access to markets, particularly federal procurement, and other issues continue to be issues we hear about in the Committee. This roundtable today will focus on three of these issues: (1) accessing markets, especially federal procurement (2) accessing capital; and (3) accessing networks and decision makers.

Twenty years later, the Committee continues to be engaged in addressing these issues. Last year, Senator Snowe and I worked together to pass legislation giving permanent funding to established Women's Business Centers. That language was implemented this year. In addition, we unanimously passed out of Committee the Entrepreneurial Development Act and the Small Business Venture Capital Act. The Entrepreneurial Development Act reauthorizes the Women's Business Center program and the National Women's Business Council. In addition, the Small Business Venture Capital Act creates incentives for financing of women-owned firms under the SBA's program for Small Business Investment Companies—or SBICs. Both of these bills are now a part of S. 2920, the Small Business Reauthorization and Opportunity Act, which we are working to pass in the Senate.

Senator Snowe, myself, and many others are also working to prevent the women's procurement rule offered up by the Bush Administration from being finalized. This has been one of my top priorities ever since the Bush Administration proposed the rule on December 27th of last year. As many of you know, this rule would allow set asides for women-owned firms in only four of a possible 140 industries. Maybe there are those in this administration who believe that women business owners don't deserve a fair shot at doing business with the federal government, but, to me, the statistics are clear and more needs to be done to provide access to women in the federal marketplace. We have a federal goal that women should receive at least 5 percent of all federal contracts, but last year women received only 3.4 percent. We must do more and this proposed rule is an affront to the hard working women business owners who need nothing more than a chance to show their worth. I've been working hard to see that this rule doesn't see the light of day, and I'll continue to do everything I can to ensure that women have an opportunity to contract with the federal government by putting in place a meaningful women's procurement program.


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