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Western Pennsylvania trails nation in growth of women's businesses, data show

| Thursday, April 7, 2016, 10:21 p.m.

Women-owned businesses have gained ground in Pittsburgh, but their growth in numbers still lags the rest of the nation, according to a report released this week.

Women-owned firms in Pittsburgh increased 23.7 percent since 2007 despite flat growth among the total number of local businesses, the State of Women-Owned Businesses report from American Express OPEN found.

The pace of expansion outside the region has been faster. Nationally, the number of women-owned firms increased 45.2 percent. The city ranks 47th among all metro areas.

Just because growth in Pittsburgh lags other cities doesn't mean there is less local support for female entrepreneurs, Julie Weeks, research adviser at American Express OPEN, said Thursday. Rather, it may reflect demographic issues and overall sluggishness in the local economy.

“I think there's a lot to be said for macroeconomic trends, in terms of population,” Weeks said. “If the population is flat or declining, you don't have as many people and you won't have as many businesses.”

Pittsburgh's population has been shrinking. The seven-county metro region has lost 3,943 people since 2010, according to Census data. It was the only city among the largest 30 metro­politan areas to have lost residents during that period.

Still, Pittsburgh could be doing more to support female entrepreneurs, said Robyn Race, owner of Evolve Wellness Spa in Shadyside. She said she struggled to find funding when she started her business in 2010 and would have benefited from having an adviser. She found support once she was established, but not early on when she needed it most.

“I think there are a ton of resources out there, I just don't know how much they helped us in the beginning,” Race said.

Helping early-stage companies get off the ground is the goal of the Women's Business Center that opened this week at Chatham University. Funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration, the center will support female entre­preneurs in an 11-county region surrounding Pittsburgh, said Rebecca Harris, director of Chatham's Center for Women's Entrepreneurship.

“A lot of times what people need is this one-on-one business counseling, and that's what this provides,” Harris said. “Let's tailor and customize a specific program and target the needs of the business.”

The center opened six months after a similar one hosted at Seton Hill University shut down in September. Chatham was one of six locations around the nation selected this month to open a Women's Business Center. There are a total of 114 throughout the country.

Kelly Hunt, the SBA's district director in Pittsburgh, said Chatham was a perfect fit to host the center.

“Chatham has a rich history of what they've been doing with women business owners for a long time,” she said. “Unlike some of the other places that could have gotten this grant, this is something they're already doing. This is what their passion is about. It's not fitting a square peg in a round hole.”

Chris Fleisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7854 or

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