Back in November I mentioned a new study of women-owned businesses being conducted under the auspices of the National Foundation for Women Business Owners (NFWBO). What prompted the study was a strong hunch that official census figures were significantly understating both the number and the economic importance of women-owned businesses by focusing on sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations, and excluding C corporations. It turns out the hunch was right. The study (by David Birch's Cognetics Inc.) is now finished, and here are some of the highlights:

* There are about 1.3 million more women-owned businesses in the United States than previously reported. The 1987 census counted 4.1 million women-owned companies, an increase of 57% from 1982. The NFWBO study raises the total to 5.4 million by identifying companies missed by the census or started since 1987. Thus, as of 1990, 28% of all businesses in the country were owned by women.

* All women-owned businesses are not tiny operations, and their contribution to job generation is far from negligible. The survey uncovered about 11,000 women-owned corporations -- with more than 2 million employees -- that the census had overlooked. And that's a conservative figure. Because of time and money constraints, only corporations with 50 or more employees were included in the study. Total employment in women-owned companies would probably increase by another million if all women-owned corporations were included.

* By the end of 1992 women-owned businesses will employ more people than the entire Fortune 500. In 1990 women-owned companies had close to 11 million employees, and the number has been growing. Meanwhile, Fortune 500 employment was 12.3 million as of 1990 and has been declining at a rate of about 300,000 a year. And remember that the Fortune 500 figures include employees outside the United States.

However one interprets the data, the report provides yet another fascinating glimpse of what has become known as the New Economy, and poses provocative questions for business strategists and policymakers alike. Perhaps the most disturbing question is this one: at a time when we desperately need more up-to-date, accurate information on the true sources of economic growth, why can't the government give us reliable data about one of the most dynamic segments of the economy -- women-owned businesses?

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For a copy of the full report, contact the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, in Washington, D.C., at 202-833-1854.

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