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She’s the boss: The ‘she-conomy’ boom continues with new business growth

By Alicia Wallace, CNN

(CNN) — Bernadette Corbeil was never one of those shopping mall girls.

She was the only girl in shop class.

“I just enjoyed working with my hands and building things,” she told CNN, noting how she learned to weld at the age of 10.

Corbeil has since parlayed that early love and those skills into a nearly decade-long career in construction. Most of those years were spent working for someone else’s firm, but that all changed last year when she founded Artemis Construction Group, a Wildwood, Missouri-based roofing and construction firm.

Now, she’s the boss.

And, she’s not alone: Women entrepreneurship has surged since the pandemic. And in 2023, women not only helped power the economy with their spending, but they also formed new businesses at rates that outpaced the market, making headway in traditionally male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing, newly released data indicates.

“Schedule, flexibility and autonomy are appealing to many women,” Tara Lewis, trend expert for business review site Yelp, told CNN in an interview. “I think that many women realize that they have control over their career options.”

Yelp researchers recently analyzed listings made across the review website, comparing the number of new businesses in 2023 tagged as “women-owned” to those in 2022. Yelp found more than 58,000 new women-led business openings, up 17% from the year before, according to the company’s recently released “She-conomy Trend Report.”

Separate data provided to CNN from payroll and benefits firm Gusto shows a similar trend.

In 2023, 49% of new business owners were women, versus 45% being men, according to survey data provided to CNN from Gusto.

In 2019, that picture looked quite different: 29% of new business owners were women, according to Gusto.

“This year, we see that 70% of women started a business out of a desire for flexibility, compared to 66% of men,” according to Gusto, which plans to release the full results of its 2023 survey later this month.

The US Census does not break out new business formation by gender, and the most recent available data on women-owned businesses is from 2021. In the absence of gold-standard data, private-sector research and surveys — although they come with their own limitations — can be used to helping to glean potential trends.

From a ‘she-cession’ to a ‘she-conomy’

While it’s a trend that has been building for some time, it went into hyperdrive when the Covid-19 pandemic rocked the US economy.

In the throes of a “she-cession,” where women’s employment was disproportionately negatively affected, women found and seized on opportunities.

During the onset of the pandemic, women launched more businesses than they closed, while the number of men-owned firms declined, according to the Wells Fargo Impact of Women-Owned Business Report released earlier this year. That was only the beginning, according to research conducted in partnership with Ventureneer, CoreWoman and Women Impacting Public Policy.

From 2019 to 2023, the number of women-owned businesses grew at nearly double the rate of men-owned companies, and increased to 4.5 times between 2022 and 2023, according to the research that leveraged Census data.

The unprecedented times also had unprecedented levels of support from both the public and private sector — in the form of grants, loans, technical assistance or shelf space — as well as nonprofit organizations and consumers, she said.

“The [entrepreneurial ecosystem] really put their arms around women-owned businesses,” said Geri Stengel, founder and president of Ventureneer, an organization that provides support and education to entrepreneurs. “Especially compared to the financial crisis of 2008 … all small businesses did better than the financial crisis [recovery], but in particular, Black and Hispanic women-owned businesses.”

From 2019 to 2023, the average revenue increase across all women-owned firms was 12.1%. It was even greater for Black and Latino women-owned firm, at 32.7% and 17.1%, respectively, according to the Wells Fargo report.

She added: “And also to give credit to the women themselves, women really adapted and pivoted.”

New opportunities and ventures

Marie Saint-Cyr is not only one of the women who pivoted and started a new business during the pandemic; she also sits among the ranks of those who started new enterprises in 2023 — by starting two more businesses.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, the New York-based visual artist worked in an assortment of capacities including freelance muralist and painter, educator and art project coordinator. When the pandemic happened, it provided a moment for her to reflect on what she wanted to do professionally, she said.

In October 2020, when she was teaching minority-owned businesses about how to work with the government, “it opened my eyes,” she said. The next year, she enrolled in nearly a dozen different programs to hone her business acumen, gain sales and marketing expertise and learn technologies.

She took all that knowledge and transformed her Saint-Cyr Art Studio into a full-service mural agency, serving as a project manager for public mural needs at New York City Public Schools and other entities. What was a $50,000 firm in 2020 leapfrogged to $230,000 in 2021 and reached nearly $1 million in revenue in 2022.

The business growth and the community impact garnered her a Young Entrepreneur Award from the US Small Business Administration.

“I had to create a process for myself that allowed me to grow from $50,000 to $1 million,” Saint-Cyr told CNN. “A lot of other people are interested in that process.”

In addition to founding an after-school art program business in 2023, Saint-Cyr is launching a coaching and consulting business to help people conduct business with public entities like the NYC school system.

Filling the (skilled trades) gap

Yelp also found that in 2023, women opened more new home services businesses than beauty businesses.

“I suspect that women are seeing the opportunity to figure out where they can insert themselves and find a competitive edge as well,” Lewis said.

There’s plenty of room — and need — in the skilled trades.

Take construction, for example, where women make up about 10% of the workers, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data; and have majority ownership of about 13% of firms, according to the National Association of Women in Construction.

Skilled trade sectors such as construction are swimming in opportunity: Billions of dollars are coming down the pike for infrastructure projects; homeowners with “golden handcuffs” of low-rate mortgages at a time of decades-high interest rates turned instead to remodel projects; and aging workforces have helped drive worker shortages.

In San Antonio, Alamo City native Allie Perez took up the torch to help bring women, minorities and young people into the skilled trades.

“Through my marketing career, through happenstance, I found the skilled construction trades, and that’s how a lot of women find it,” said Perez, who serves as chief marketing officer and chief operating officer for George Plumbing Company. “But once I did, I fell in love with it. I thought, ‘How many other women are like me? How many other women didn’t even have this on their radar, didn’t even know this was an option?’”

She founded Texas Women in Trades in 2013 to help bridge connections with female industry leaders, build relationship with union shops and provide resources to help women move up the ladder, land contracts, or eventually venture out on their own.

Perez and Texas Women in Trades have focused on not only shining a light on those issues but also speaking with employers, unions and contractors to improve job standards. In recent years, she’s seen a noticeable shift.

“There has absolutely been an uptick in interest over the last few years in this [skilled trades] work” by women, Perez said. “I think that stems from a couple of different things: We’re talking about it more; I think schools are starting to implement more training programs internally; I think parents are looking for alternative to student loans and high-dollar degrees; and I think in general, as a society, we are seeing more women in these roles.”

And that includes more women at the helm of these firms, she added.

In Missouri, Bernadette Corbeil’s decision last year to venture out on her own has been an incredibly fruitful one. In its first six month of business, Artemis Construction Group was loaded with bookings.

“I have an amazing team, and they stick behind me; but the fact that I could do in six months what I’ve been trying to do with his company for all these years is like ‘Holy cow, there you go,’” she said. “I would like to see more females get into the skilled trades, and I feel like people are starting to accept females into the trades a bit more and can see that we can actually swing a hammer, too, and still do a good job and get it done in a timely fashion.”

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