Institute fosters growth of women-owned businesses

North Dakota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1994  | April 1994 issue

"I need to fire someone, how should I proceed?" "My financing fell through, what now?" "Know a good marketing person?" These are typical questions directed to the Entrepreneur's Hotline at the North Dakota Women's Business Institute.

The Hotline draws about 200 calls per month from women business owners across the state. That's just one way for women business owners to get advice from the Women's Business Institute, says Penny Retzer, director.

Based in Fargo, the institute is a Small Business Administration (SBA) demonstration project to train women in management, marketing and entrepreneurial skills. Partially funded by the SBA, North Dakota's program is unique in its rural focus and is the nation's only women's business institute that operates statewide. Since the institute began operations in July 1993, it has reached about 5,000 of the nearly 13,000 women-owned businesses in the state.

With the rural nature of North Dakota communities, the institute often has to go to the women instead of the women coming to them, says Retzer, who is also head of a business training organization and speakers brokerage that was the institute's genesis. Certified trainers are scattered in 12 locations throughout the state, and videotaped programs are available for those women unable to attend.

Institute-sponsored programs range from an eight-week course on the foundations of running a business to a one-day seminar on a topical issue. For example, four May workshops are planned around the state with federal government purchasing agents providing information on government contracting.

And some special programs are directed to women who operate home-based businesses, Retzer says. "We teach them how to market beyond North Dakota's borders," she says. "We'll begin to see real economic growth when they expand."

The institute also works with state and federal agencies that provide services to small business owners, including the state's women's business leadership councils. The councils provide a support network of women in business throughout the state, says Retzer, adding that North Dakota is one of only nine states to have a full-time women's business advocate in state government.

Future programs may target Native American women in business as well as bankers and other business service providers. "All the people helping women need to be educated too," Retzer says.

In terms of start-ups and overall growth nationally, women-owned businesses are growing four times faster than those owned by men, Retzer says. "In North Dakota this is where economic growth is happening."

Kathy Cobb