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Female entrepreneurs ones to watch

| Sunday, July 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Think of this as an economic pop-up. A small business here or there starts talking about seeing promising signs of economic light.

And promising signs are pumping up payrolls, as several female business owners say that they once again will begin hiring.

We often focus on what's happening in autos or real estate when talking about the economic recovery. But as business owners, women are key to watch when it comes to economic development.

“There are more than 10 million businesses owned by women and growing at a faster rate than any other type of small business,” said Terry Barclay, president and CEO of Inforum and Inforum Center for Leadership in Detroit.

According to the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, women-owned businesses account for 28.7 percent of all businesses.

A study early this year indicated that female entrepreneurs were optimistic about the future.

The survey conducted by Group Inc. and the National Association of Women Business Owners found that about 85 percent of women business owners surveyed predicted that more women will become entrepreneurs in 2013 than in past years. And 38 percent planned to invest more in hiring this year than they did in 2012 — a positive sign for the economy.

The female business owners I talked with are cautiously optimistic. Some said they have renewed hope and plan to expand their businesses.

The key word to focus on here is “optimistic.”

Dierker & Associates, a Troy, Mich.-based law firm that specializes in intellectual property rights, says more companies, including those in the automotive and computer products industries, are once again confident about their business outlook. Companies are more willing to invest in developing new products, and that's creating more work for patent-related legal counsel.

“Now, we're ramping up again,” said Julia Church Dierker, who started the firm in 2002. Several years ago, when work was plentiful, the firm had six attorneys, but that was before the economic slump hit hard in 2008-09.

The firm has three attorneys now. But the upswing in the firm's legal work makes Dierker & Associates more willing to hire maybe one or two attorneys within the coming year.

“We would not be actively trying to add to our professional staff if we were not confident,” Dierker said.

No doubt, small-business owners aren't just hiring to hire. Some job openings can only be filled by people with specific qualifications and talents. Many jobs are being created to handle work on clearly defined projects.

Detail Xperts, a Detroit-based steam-cleaning car wash franchise, sees opportunities after surviving the recession. The company, which has 10 employees, expects to hire about 50 people for a new operation in downtown Detroit in the next few months.

Angela Williams, who owns Detail Xperts, says keeping contacts open and building name recognition during the downturn forged a stronger foundation for building the business. Contacts and sales calls that Detail Xperts made two or three years ago are turning into real work, she said.

The company has auto detail shops and mobile detailing units and cleans automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, boats and even airplanes.

“We stayed in the forefront. We stayed out there,” said Williams, who owns the company with her husband, Emmanuel.

Paula Tompkins, CEO and founder of Dearborn, Mich.-based ChannelNet, said her business has picked up as the financial services and automotive financial services sectors have gained ground. She noted that changes in the digital world favor her business, too.

“Customers are empowered now. They don't want to hang on” with phone calls to call centers, she said. Instead, consumers are willing to handle many transactions online.

ChannelNet has 100 employees, the bulk in Dearborn, and plans to hire six people in the next few months and at least another 12 within the next year. The company offers Web-based connections to retain customers and build business, which includes a platform for managing the auto lease turn-in process online. Clients include BMW Financial Services and Audi Financial Services.

Tompkins founded the privately held company more than 25 years ago in California and opened a Dearborn office in 1996 to be near auto clients. The headquarters was moved to Michigan in 2001. She favors the Michigan workforce, noting that pay packages are 30 percent higher in California.

“The economy is improving,” she said. But companies also realize that it's essential to have a brand website that's customer-friendly. The company's patented software enables consumers to research a purchase, view sales incentives and complete a transaction at a store, through a call center or on their mobile device.

Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's Analytics, predicted that small-business hiring should grow slowly, but steadily pick up in the next year or so. Credit is flowing a bit more freely to small-business owners, he said, allowing them to expand operations.

Many small businesses are tied into the housing market, he said, so as housing revives, so too should hiring. Think real estate agents, mortgage companies, landscapers, garden supply retailers and hardware stores, law firms, accountants, home improvement, plumbers and electricians, moving companies and trucking jobs.

“It won't be a straight line — government cuts and tax increases are hurting — but prospects are better over the next several years,” Zandi said.

Job hunters won't necessarily find a straight line to a paycheck, either.

The key elements are training and talent.

Ronia Kruse, president and CEO of OpTech in Troy, said her firm could hire more than 115 people by the end of the year. That's up from 200 employees now.

The company, which provides information technology and engineering staffing, is looking at expanding into office space in downtown Detroit, as well.

But Kruse says the challenge in hiring will be finding the right people with degrees in math, computer science, engineering and the like. She needs experienced program managers, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers.

“Everybody is hiring the talent to deliver the projects,” Kruse said. Many companies had put projects on hold during the recession, she said, and now need to move forward.

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at

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