Women-owned businesses fuel Georgia’s growth

Moderated by Rick Badie

Three essays, three subjects. First, a female entrepreneur writes about the growth of women business owners in Georgia, a sector leader. In the second essay, a corporate executive notes a rise in “global engagement” — the region’s growth in international trade, investment and collaboration. Finally, a nonprofit founder trumpets the importance of building relationships with local hospitals, research institutions and various organizations devoted to health care.

Ga. female-owned businesses lead nation

By Jill Peck

Why does the number of female entrepreneurs keep growing, particularly in Georgia? Well, here are my reflections, based on personal experiences and those shared with me by other women.

Many women I know evolved in their multi-faceted lives and different roles. When I was graduating college, women generally did one of three things: They went to work for big corporations and then gave up their jobs to have children; they juggled their jobs and their children, or they went to work and didn’t pursue families at all.

At the start of my career, I worked for three different small businesses, and my bosses were a series of male entrepreneurs. However, one of my bosses was a female entrepreneur, and she unknowingly paved the way for my future.My grandfather and dad were small business owners. My business partner’s father was a small business owner. Today, an estimated 9.1 million small businesses are owned by women. According to the 2014 State of Women-Owned Business Report commissioned by American Express OPEN, $1.4 trillion in revenue is generated by these businesses that employ 7.9 million people. This accounts for 30 percent of all enterprises. It should be noted that, over the last seven years, Georgia has led the U.S. in the fastest growth in women-owned businesses.

I wanted to be a “stay-at-home” mom. Instead, I became a single mom who continued to work. My point: As women’s lives change, so do the choices they make about careers. I met my business partner at day care. Together, we built a family-friendly marketing company, now in its 20th year, that met our needs and families as well as our employees — women and men.

Interestingly, several of the females that worked for our company have left over the past five years to start their own businesses. One became an artist. Several became moms and then came back to work for us. One is a well-known make-up artist. Another started a subscription-based business, and another became our partner in a new business venture. These women became business owners because they could. Women adapt and make their careers work for their lives, rather than allow their work to run their lives.

Several women on the Atlanta Board of Directors of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) are corporate refugees. They had tremendous career success, pioneered their way in a man’s business world and then retired. These women took their knowledge and experience and applied it to their own gigs. Now, they are successful consultants, attorneys, franchise owners, electricians, event planners, financial advisers and more. Some are wives, some mothers, some both, some neither. All are women business owners in Atlanta.

When I went to work out of college, women still wore stockings and blue suits with white shirts and needed a male relative to co-sign for a business loan. The Women’s Business Ownership Act was passed in 1988 with the help of NAWBO to address the needs of women in business. Among other benefits, it eliminated banks’ discriminatory lending practices that favored male business owners.

Today, a woman business owner can secure a loan from organizations like the Small Business Association or Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs or even a regular old bank. Of course, traditional banks make it hard for anyone to get a loan these days, men included.

The number of women business owners continues to grow because empowered women can make it happen, and today’s women are truly empowered.

Jill Peck is president of the National Association of Women Business Owners, Atlanta.

Embrace foreign trade activity

By Julie Brown

Earlier this year, Atlanta was ranked the 35th most “globally engaged” city, defined as a city that generates and keeps top talent, businesses, ideas and capital. As Mayor Kasim Reed said, this was proof that we’ve made strides, but we could be doing even more to attract investment, jobs and growth. The more we move up that list, the more prosperity we will draw to our area.

Surpassing U.S. cities like New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Chicago and foreign ones like London, Dubai and Buenos Aires in overall economic growth is well within Atlanta’s reach. We have the ingredients to elevate our standing. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is second to none. Our already bustling ports in Savannah and Brunswick show steadily increasing volume. And we have more than 100 consulates, trade offices and bi-national chambers of commerce. Focused leveraging of these assets and organizations will increase global engagement and place Atlanta near the top of the list of best places to do business.

As a participant in the U.S. Foreign-Trade Zone program, the Georgia Foreign-Trade Zone is a meaningful part of the work to bolster Atlanta’s standings. Foreign-Trade Zone activity is at an all-time high not only in the Atlanta region, but throughout the state. By providing incentives that lower operating costs and increase international trade, the Foreign-Trade Zone program attracts Georgia companies involved in manufacturing, warehouse operations and distribution. Our member companies embrace global engagement because they know it works.The trade zone program program in Georgia revolves around our state’s international ports of entry. It is made up of almost 70 sites for companies including Chico’s, Yamaha, DHL Global Forwarding, Ricoh Electronics, Makita and Mizuno.

Our state’s Foreign-Trade Zone activity is growing at an impressive rate; more than $10 billion in merchandise moved through Georgia’s sites during 2013, an increase of almost 40 percent over 2012. Since 2011, employment has grown by more than 60 percent, to 7,700. Foreign-Trade Zone exports have tripled over the past five years. Georgia ranks within the top 15 states for such export activity.

As trade zone global engagement continues to grow at the local and state level, we’re being recognized far beyond state borders, further elevating the visibility of Atlanta and Georgia. We share our story nationally and internationally as a board member of the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones and the recently created World Free Zones Organization.

While working on Foreign-Trade Zone policy at the national level is crucial to our success, our involvement in World Free Zones as one of its founding board members is a unique privilege. As we are one of only two American organizations to sit on the 13-member board, the potential exposure for Atlanta and Georgia is significant.

Created earlier this year in Geneva, Switzerland, and headquartered in Dubai, the new global association will facilitate the exchange of experience, knowledge and best practices among its members and the communities they serve. This is a tremendous opportunity for sharing our story with global professionals dedicated to positive economic and social development through international trade.

I believe these efforts will pay off for the local economy through increased investment, jobs and growth. And I believe the companies and organizations participating in the Foreign-Trade Zone program in Georgia will help fuel the engine that moves Atlanta to the top of the list.

Julie Brown is CEO of Georgia Foreign-Trade Zone.

Collaborate on South’s health care

By Russ Lipari

Imagine a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony where only the string section is audible. The players may be talented and the melodies timeless, but the composer’s work is not fully appreciated until the rest of the orchestra is heard. When you look at the state of health assets across the Southeast, a similar pattern emerges.

We are fortunate to live in a region that’s home to some of the world’s leading health research institutions, hospitals and governmental and nonprofit organizations. Yet too often, these groups operate in isolation, in silos. Imagine what could be achieved if they collaborated — if they worked in concert like the sections of an orchestra.

That’s the mission of Health Connect South, a nonprofit organization founded to break down silos and serve as an “on-ramp” to new kinds of collaboration that could transform the South’s health care landscape.Health Connect South is holding an inaugural event Monday at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta. We’re bringing together the South’s most influential health leaders and innovators to create powerful alliances and foster medical breakthroughs. Participating organizations include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Cancer Society, Task Force for Global Health, Shepherd Center, Emory University, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Morehouse School of Medicine, Coca-Cola, UPS, CARE and many more.

For this event to be successful, we must engage the broader health care community, not just leaders. We seek to attract our region’s leading health students and key decision makers as well as innovators from academic institutions, hospitals, start-ups, emerging and established industry players and those involved in the global application of health.

Health Connect South will be an ongoing initiative. We’re planning smaller events in the coming year to keep the conversations and collaborations moving forward.

We’re starting this effort from a position of enormous strength. The South is home to a vibrant health care industry. When you inventory what’s here, it’s simply astounding. What New York is to finance and Hollywood is to film, Georgia is to health. Health Connect South is looking to position the state and region as a hub for health care innovation and collaboration that make the sector even stronger and give birth to new partnerships, businesses and jobs.

Let me provide one example of what I’m talking about.

Last year, Dr. Dennis Liotta, executive director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development, attended a Health Connect South event where he met Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, dean and president of the Morehouse School of Medicine. The two began chatting and realized they had a lot in common and much to offer one another. From this connection, they forged a partnership that resulted in the two institutions collaborating on multiple clinical trials.

Imagine the possibilities when these kinds of encounters occur by design.

Russ Lipari is founder and CEO of the nonprofit Health Connect South.

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