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Georgia leads nation in women's business growth

Kathy Wingard, Associated Press

A new study shows Georgia leads the nation in the growth of new women-owned businesses for the first time.

The number of firms started by women since 1997 has shown faster growth in Georgia than anywhere else in the nation, expanding by more than 111 percent, according to a report commissioned by American Express OPEN.

Georgia was the only state to see triple-digit growth, according to the study, and businesses owned by females will contribute more than $44 billion to the state's economy this year.

Atlanta ranked sixth in metropolitan areas when the number of employees and the growth by annual income were factored in to create an "economic clout" ranking.

The report highlighted the number of businesses owned by women, their sales and the number of people they employ. The state has over 308,000 women-owned firms.

Women are expanding their businesses and delighting in the competition. In the cupcake wars, women bakers are on the front lines. Some own multiple cupcake shops and chains, like Gigi's Cupcakes, have sprung up. Jennifer Cooper and her husband Patrick now own four Gigi's stores in Alabama and Columbus, Ga. They have sprung up over just two years.

The store in Columbus was opened because so many people were driving to the Auburn store for cupcakes. "Because of the military and the business support, it is just the right place for a cupcake store and our customers there are just wonderful," Cooper said.

They are planning another location. Cooper, a former teacher, said, "In the business world, the unsung heroes are women. We bring compassion and go the extra mile to make sure our customers have a great experience." Her greatest challenge "is to find the balance between business decisions and heart decisions. Sometimes I lay awake worrying about those," the Auburn graduate disclosed

Linda Echols started her own hair salon more than 30 years ago with a friend. She now has 24 employees, 20 of whom are women. For her next expansion, she has a vision of a not-for-profit cosmetology school that will provide an avenue to a career for victims of domestic violence. She said, "One key to success is offering flexible hours and days for young mothers. You cater to your customers and to your employees and they stay with you over the years."

Over the past 15 years, the state has nearly doubled the national growth rate of 59 percent. In spite of the national downturn, employment numbers rose by 24.7 percent.

The report states that revenue growth is stronger among firms owned by women of color and that could indicate that business ownership is an attractive pursuit for them. The report said that "While firms owned by women of color are smaller than non-minority women-owned businesses both in terms of average employment and revenues, their growth in number and economic clout is generally far outpacing that of all women-owned firms."

Nationally, the number of companies owned by African-American women is up 258% from 1997 to 2013, according to Womenable, the firm commissioned for the report. New enterprises owned by Georgia's African-American women have grown more than 254 percent over that time.

Health care and social assistance have the largest share of women-owned businesses followed by educational services like private schools, cosmetology or training schools, other services such as beauty salons and pet sitting, and administrative and waste management services. The industries with the lowest concentration of women-owned firms are construction and transportation and warehousing.