Feb. 9, 2006--With more technology and outsourcing options available than ever, the number of women-owned businesses without employees is growing at twice the national rate of all non-employee firms, according to a new study.

Eighty-one percent of all women-owned firms are sole proprietorships, according to the Washington D.C.-based Center for Women's Business Research, which co-sponsored the study. Between 1992 and 2004, these privately held firms generated $167 billion in sales, and posted a growth rate of 66%. About one-third of all U.S. firms without employees are owned by women.

"These are not hobby businesses," said Sharon Hadary, executive director of the Center for Women's Business Research. "The substantial number of people in this group are running a growing, meaningful business."

The report, released on Feb. 2, was conducted by the Center for Women's Business Research and Wells Fargo & Company.

The highest growth rate for women-owned sole proprietorships is in industries that have, historically, been dominated by men. These industries include construction, agriculture, transportation, and communications.

Technology and outsourcing are driving this growth, according to Hadary. More and more companies are realizing that they don't need to staff certain employees for a full year when they only need their services for one or two months. Technology is making it easier for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and hire others on a contract basis, often remotely.

"Not having employees doesn't mean working alone," Hadary said. Through collaboration and contracts these non-employer firms help to employ others indirectly.

California has the most women-owned non-employee firms in the country. The top five fastest-growing states for these firms, based on number and sales between 1997 and 2004, include Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Arizona, and North Carolina.

The report, entitled Women-Owned Firms Doing Business Without Employees: A Growing Economic Force, found that the growth in revenues also applied to firms owned by men, which grew 42% between 1992 and 2004. Women-owned firms grew 66% growth.

"This is not a women's phenomenon," Hadary said. "Clearly these businesses have a huge amount of potential to impact our economy. You ignore this market at your peril."