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Oregon is a great state to work for woman owned businesses.
 


Top women executives say the state is a great place to network, find financing, ask questions and meet friendly, like-minded businesspeople

05/12/02

STEVE WOODWARD

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Oregon Moment No. 1: Judy MacDonald Johnston and other founding women employees of the startup Tessy & Tab Reading Club gather at a Portland direct-mail plant to give their 10,000 charter subscription offers a celebratory send-off. Caught up in the excitement, the mailers snap their pictures, as though they are old friends. Later, needing a signature on a document, their banker abandons his office to meet them for a neighborly brewpub lunch.

Judging by the numbers, Oregon appears to know what women want. Oregon has the highest concentration of women-owned businesses in the United States -- nearly one out of every three in the state.

And the numbers are growing quickly: Oregon has one of the nationís fastest growth rates for new women-owned businesses, taking into account not only sheer numbers of companies but also employment and revenue.

Ask any woman entrepreneur why the grass looks greener in Oregon, and you likely wonít hear much about access to capital, regulatory environment, technology infrastructure and such.

Instead, youíll probably get an earful of adjectives such as friendly, open, casual, relaxed, supportive, helpful -- and female. Oregon is about "people supporting strangers for no particularly good reason," says Judy MacDonald Johnston, who is starting her third consecutive business in Oregon.

"People in Oregon are more open and friendly to begin with, which is a typical female mode of behavior," says Johnston, quoting her sister, Jean MacDonald, a Portland Web designer who operates Well-Tempered Web Design.

"Itís not male-aggressive."

Regardless of whether an X or a Y chromosome -- or neither -- resides in Oregonís business core, the stateís reputation as a softer, gentler place to do business resonates strongly with women entrepreneurs. Freed from the common fear of asking naive questions or being intimidated by domineering businessmen, women interviewed by The Oregonian see a state in which small women-owned businesses can take root and flourish.

The stateís consistently high marks were affirmed earlier this year by the Center for Womenís Business Research, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization. The centerís report, "Women-Owned Businesses in 2002," showed that Oregonís 99,492 privately held companies that are majority-owned by women constitute 32 percent of all Oregon companies.

In addition, the center estimates that the number of women-owned firms in Oregon rose by 24 percent between 1997 and this year. During that period, employment in women-owned businesses grew even faster, 62 percent, and sales increased 61 percent.

"There definitely is a more open environment here," says Diane McClelland, executive director and president of Astra Society International and co-founder of the Foundation for Women-Owned Businesses, both womenís mentorship programs based in Portland. "Thereís an openness to change and innovation. Women here are particularly interested in helping one another."

Simply put, Oregon is relaxed, compared with other places, says Sylvia Gercke, who often swaps tales with women entrepreneurs as public information officer for the Portland district of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

"Weíre not New York, where people are really busy," Gercke says, "or San Francisco, where thereís a fear of asking someone to help you."

Oregon Moment No. 2: Heather Howitt dials Sunshine Dairy in 1994 out of the blue, wanting inform
 
 
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