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Tampa-St. Pete businesswomen optimistic about the future, Bank of America says

Margie Manning

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Rebekah Rice (left), small business banking manager for Bank of America in Tampa Bay, at a panel discussion for women business owners at Stageworks in downtown Tampa. Photo courtesy of Bank of America.

Women business owners see a bright future for their companies, but also recognize that there are barriers to accessing capital, according to a new survey from Bank of America.

Rebekah Rice

Findings from the national survey were largely echoed by the area businesswomen who participated in a panel discussion Oct. 21 at Stageworks in downtown Tampa, said Rebekah Rice, small business banking manager for Bank of America in Tampa Bay. About 75 women attended the event.

“When you think about the current market environment, it’s supportive of small business. The latest consumer spending report shows steady results. Unemployment remains historically low and technology and digital innovations are providing improved resources for entrepreneurs. Against that backdrop, confidence is at a four-year high,” Rice said.

In addition, startups have a relatively high survival rate, and there’s a smaller gap between women’s and men’s annual earnings in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area, according to a separate report released today from the personal finance website SmartAsset, which ranked the metro area as the 8th best place in the United States for women entrepreneurs.

Bank of America’s national survey found that more women small business owners expect year-over-year revenue growth than do their male counterparts.

Women small business owners also plan to expand and hire at higher rates than men who own small businesses.

When asked about what makes them confident, women cited four factors — the GDP growth rate, their own business performance, interest rates and technology, Rice said.

Eighty-four-percent of the women surveyed believe that access to capital has improved over the last decade, the Bank of America survey found. But 58 percent said women business owners currently don’t have the same access to capital as their male counterparts. Thirty-four percent believe it will take some time to achieve equal access to capital — on average, 14.4 years — while nearly 24 percent of women entrepreneurs believe women will never have equal access to capital.

“We have to do everything we can to help with that perception. Women’s voices are strengthening in all corners of our society, including small business ownership, and I think as a country and as an industry we’ve made great strides towards equality, but there’s still room to level the playing field,” Rice said.

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC), headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina and the largest retail bank in the Tampa-St. Pete area, works to increase access to capital through direct lending, as well as community development financial institutions and partnerships with organizations like the National Association of Women Business Owners, Rice said.

This year, the bank increased its donation to the Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program from $50 million to $100 million. That program aims to increase the number and grow the size of women-owned businesses in the U.S. by connecting women entrepreneurs to affordable loans.

The Bank of America survey also asked about trends and personal experiences that have shaped the women entrepreneurs. Two-thirds of them cited adversity, such as losing a job or having to overcome a health challenge. Others said obtaining a college degree and having a mentor contributed to their success.

“When it comes to a character trait, what resonated is  integrity and perseverance,” Rice said.

Just over one in five businesses locally, 20.9 percent, are owned by women, according to the new SmartAsset study.

On average, annual earnings for women in the Tampa-St. Pete area were about 83 percent of men’s, suggesting women may have a better chance at saving up to own a business, SmartAsset said. It also said 78.4 percent of startups in the Tampa-St. Pete area are still active after a year.

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