Choice or necessity? Florida leads U.S. in growth of women-owned firms

South Florida ranks in the nation’s top five metro areas for growth in female-owned businesses

Florida leads the nation in the growth of women-owned businesses, a study based on census data says.

The metro area from greater West Palm Beach to Miami ranks in the nation’s top five for such growth.

Just be prepared for a spirited discussion if you ask how much that represents the pull of entrepreneurial opportunity or the push of inequality in the traditional workplace. One analysis plunks Florida in the bottom ten states on pay for women compared to men and 15 other measures of workplace equality.

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In Royal Palm Beach, Valerie Dorsey said she never planned to be part of the trend.

But big corporations told her she did not have enough experience in the field she wanted to enter, travel. So the former Air Force reservist and pharmaceutical sales representative said she took the leap to own and operate her own Cruise Planners travel agency at

“It was not something I thought I’d ever do, because I always got my paycheck from corporate America,” Dorsey said. “That pushback from those organizations helped me see maybe I should do this on my own. I control my hours. I control everything now, even my own salary.”

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How’s it working out?

“Almost eight years later I consider myself pretty successful,” she said.

Nationally, women start 1,821 new businesses a day, according to a report commissioned by American Express based on U.S. Census Bureau surveys of business owners.

And this jumps out: Women of color are starting new businesses at nearly three times the growth rate of whites since 2007.

Across the country, black women business owners tend to be younger compared to other groups, with nearly four in 10 younger than 35.

In contrast, more than half of Hispanic and Asian women owners are between 35 and 54, according to the American Express study.

Florida leads the nation in the growth of women-owned firms since 2007. Next were Georgia, Michigan and Tennessee.

Florida’s southeast region is pushing the state’s numbers most.

“Palm Beach County is fortunate to have so many women leaders in both the public and private sector,” said Kelly Smallridge, president and CEO of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County. The county mayor is a woman and so are leaders of several municipalities including West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and Wellington, she noted.

Most women-owned businesses fall in one of three categories: personal services such as salons; health care; and professionals such as attorneys, accountants and architects, she said.

“With this county’s growing population and demographics, there is the need for all three so women-owned business have increased opportunities in this market,” Smallridge said.

But how much is happening by necessity more than choice?

One study ranks Florida among the 10 “worst” states for female equality in the workplace. Wallethub ranked the states on 16 indicators, including male vs. female pay and the percentage of women executives.

“Access to capital has improved somewhat for women, however my sense is that women start their own business because there is a lack of opportunity,” said LeAnna Carey, president of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Palm Beach County.

Women often exceed male counterparts in education and training in the modern marketplace, she said.

Still, “the statistics continue to demonstrate that women only hold 5 percent of CEO positions in the S&P 500 companies,” she said. “We know that it will take over 200 years for gender parity to take place, and I am of the strong opinion that women need more male advocates in the workplace.”

Whatever the reason, South Florida has become a hotspot for women-owned businesses.

In Royal Palm Beach, Dorsey said she probably would not be a franchise business owner if corporate employers had been more receptive.

“They were telling me my experience wouldn’t translate to travel,” she said.

So she became the boss who decided she was right for the job after all.

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