Aug. 24--When Betty Renard started her real estate brokerage in 2006, she found guidance in another woman who headed her own small realty agency.
Renard had a decade of experience in real estate sales before deciding to branch out on her own. In 2006, Renard, with a daughter in high school and pondering her retirement plans, founded Cornerstone Realty. Four years later, she joined national real estate franchise Weichert Realtors.
"I can say at the beginning, I had the support of another woman that was running a brokerage," Renard said. "During the process, I have relationships with other women who are running brokerages that I feel like I can call on and who call on me. They're my competitors, but at the same time supportive."
That support system could be one reason women-owned companies in Georgia are growing the fastest in the country, according to American Express OPEN's fourth annual "State of Women-Owned Business" report.
Since 1997, the number of businesses led by women in the Peach State has skyrocketed by 118 percent, almost double the national increase of 68 percent. Georgia is tied for fourth with Arizona in economic clout, which combines growth in number, revenue and employment of women-run companies, after ranking eighth in the country in 2012.
Out of 9.1 million businesses in the nation owned by women, about 317,000 are in Georgia. Those firms generate more than $45 million in revenue, an 80 percent increase since 1997, and employ 240,200 people, or 26 percent more than in 1997.
On a national scale, female-driven firms bring in more than $1.4 trillion in revenue and employ 7.8 million workers, according to the report, which analyzed growth trends from the 1997-2007 U.S. Economic Census with their projections based on economic conditions.
The report said 40 percent of new firms are now started by women, who are leading overall growth in the real estate, finance and insurance and wholesale trade sectors but are still lagging in educational services and retail/trade.
"I think there are a couple of reasons that contribute to this trend," said Sue Parr, the president and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. "Women entrepreneurs tend to draw upon their own experiences and needs, find solutions and then transfer that into niche products and services for commercialization. And, of course, women are motivated to find more flexible work environments than the traditional workplace often provides."
In 2012, Kim Romaner took on ownership of Transworld Business Advisors of Augusta in an effort to slow down from excessive traveling required by her other business. The corporation, which she runs with her husband, Michael, helps those in the local business community buy and sell companies, offers franchise consulting and assists in franchise development.
Romaner said about 20 percent of the businesses she works with are owned by women, 20 percent by couples and 60 percent by men.
"I'm working with a lot of prospective female buyers, however, who are calling me out-of-state looking to relocate here," Romaner said. "Many women I'm talking to are coming home to be near family, but they're still looking to create their own income, so they're looking for businesses to buy."
Romaner has several startups under her belt. In 1989, she started one of her first Miami businesses -- a technology consulting and resale firm. She also worked at the Miami Herald for almost a decade, before leaving in 2006 as vice president of new initiatives.
She then founded a business-development consulting firm in Miami.
After getting Transworld off the ground two years ago, Romaner has added two business brokers who are up to carrying about 30 listings each month, and she has plans of continual expansion.
"I tell everybody I'm actively looking for brokers," she said.
The American Express OPEN report did note that while women-owned firms are growing faster than the national average, those companies employ only 6 percent of the country's workforce and contribute 4 percent of revenue -- about the same amount as 1997. The report pointed to the importance of providing women with support and tools to help their enterprises grow.
Renard, who no longer sells property but instead handles all the administrative duties at her Martinez office, managed as many as 12 agents at one point but has cut that number in half in recent years.
"We have since downsized again in associates and office space," said Renard, who now works with five agents. "However, our gross income continues to increase. I've learned a lot about managing the business more efficiently."
Renard said she looks forward to the day when she can add more Realtors, just as long as they generate business and produce sales.
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