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Despite Disparities, Women-Owned Small Businesses Grow in Pennsylvania

Credit: iStock

Reinette LeJeune

Historically, women-owned businesses tend to be less financed than men-owned businesses, yet in 2022 we are continuing to see an increase of women starting businesses all on their own, while also outperforming those owned and run by men. Over the course of 2021, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners, 12.3 million women-owned businesses were reported across the country, with over 350,000 of them located in Pennsylvania, an estimated 39.4 percent of the state’s small businesses. Women of color especially saw growth as 64 percent of new women-owned businesses last year were started by women of color – who oversaw the employment of 2.2 million employees nationwide. 

It is astounding to learn that within the last 20 years alone, women entrepreneurs in the US have increased by a staggering 114 percent. Even fifty years ago, in 1972 for example, only around 402,000 women-owned businesses existed. However, despite numbers of businesses rising exponentially, women are often underfunded compared to men-owned businesses. According to the earlier report, the average loan-size for a man is often around $43,916, whereas women often receive an average loan size almost $5,000 less at $38,942, with women also often asking for $33,000 less in financing than men. Despite these obstacles, women-owned businesses still tend to grow by 84 percent, as opposed to the 78 percent growth by men-owned businesses since first opening their doors. 

In February, Governor Tom Wolf proposed a spending plan for the $2.2 billion leftover from the $7 billion coronavirus relief funding which includes a second round of grants for the state’s small business owners totaling $225 million. Resistance to the plan comes from the majority-Republican Legislature, some of whom recommend stashing the money into an emergency “rainy-day” fund. Governor Wolf has argued that the money is sitting around rather than being dispersed to business owners hurt by the pandemic. He has proposed recapitalizing the COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance program at $225 million to help the same number of businesses as the last time – 11,000 exactly. The state would allocate the $225 million through distribution to community development financial institutions, or CDFIs. Should the spending plan be passed, grants from $5,000 to $50,000 would again be available to eligible small businesses with less than $1 million in revenue and fewer than 25 employees who were impacted by COVID-19. Over 50% of the grants from the first round were to women-owned businesses, most of which never qualified for the Paycheck Protection Program or other federal loan assistance, highlighting Pennsylvania business owners’ needs for more financial relief. 

The state of Pennsylvania offers several loan, mentoring, and free grant programs available to business owners, with distribution based on regions still struggling from the last two years of the pandemic. For grants and loans specifically available for minority and women-owned businesses, information can be found here: