Sept. 21, 2004--Women-owned businesses are driving economic growth in major U.S. metropolitan areas, with revenues growing by more than 40% since 1997, according to a new study by the Center for Women's Business Research.

The research group estimates that there are currently 5.1 million 50% or more women-owned businesses in the 50 largest American cities. These firms generate $1.3 trillion in revenue and employ 9.5 million people.

The top city for women-owned businesses based on the average number of firms, employees, and sales in 2004 was Los Angeles. Chicago, New York, Houston, and Phoenix rounded out the top 5.

The number of privately-held women-owned firms grew at almost twice the rate of all firms in the top 50 cities between 1997 and 2004, nearly 18% and 10% respectively. Employment rose by 26% at these firms during that time, versus 10.5% for all firms. Revenue grew by roughly 41% compared to slightly less than 33% for all firms.

"At a time when employment is critical to the growth of urban economies, women-owned businesses are having a vital impact," said Myra, M. Hart, chair of the Center and a professor at Harvard Business School.

As of 2004, the group estimates that there are 10.6 million privately-held, 50% or more women-owned firms nationwide, which represents nearly half of all privately-held businesses, says the center.

Though women-owned businesses are clearly a vital part of the U.S. economy, they disproportionately have difficulty finding funding. A recent study by Growthink Research showed that just a little bit more than 4% of venture capital in 2003 went to women entrepreneurs. Additionally, only 21% of all loans backed by the Small Business Administration have gone to women in 2004.