Maine still ranks near the bottom of states based on the number of businesses owned by women, but the number is increasing, according to a recent study on female-owned businesses.

The third annual State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, commissioned by New York-based American Express Co., ranked Maine 47th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia based on a variety of growth factors for female-owned firms such as new-business creation, employment and sales revenue.

The study found that Maine has an estimated 40,500 companies owned by women, employing 30,000 people. The figure is based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from 1997 to the present. The bureau’s business census is taken every five years.

The study’s author, Michigan-based researcher Julie Weeks, said one of the key factors that likely contributed to Maine’s low score was its relatively stagnant population growth.

“If a state is not growing fast in terms of population, then it won’t grow fast in terms of businesses,” Weeks said.

Another deterrent to growth in Maine is the fact that its economy is dominated by small firms, Weeks said. States with an even mix of small, medium and large businesses tend to experience the fastest growth, she said.

The top five states in what Weeks calls “growth in number and economic clout of women-owned firms” were the District of Columbia, followed by North Dakota, Nevada, Wyoming and Georgia. The states that saw the least growth were Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, Ohio and, in last place, Iowa.

Susan Corbett, owner of Machias-based broadband Internet service provider Axiom Technologies, said an emphasis on children and lack of child care in Maine could account in part for the state’s slow growth in the number of women who start their own businesses. She said her own career took a time out when she started having children.

“When my children were young, they took first priority,” she said.

Maine’s number of female-owned businesses has increased — from 30,598 firms in 1997 to 40,500 firms in 2013, a jump of 32.3 percent.

Employment by women-owned businesses in Maine increased by 6.1 percent during the same period, from 28,263 employees (not including business owners) to 30,000 employees, the study said.

Combined sales revenue for women-owned businesses in the state increased by 12.9 percent, from $3.21 billion in 1997 to an estimated $3.63 billion in 2013, it said.

Female business owners in Maine said some challenges do exist to doing business in the state, such as its relatively strict regulations and sparse population.

“As far as I’m concerned, there are a lot of advantages to living in Maine, but it’s challenging; it’s difficult,” said Beth Sturtevant, owner of Westbrook-based construction company CCB Inc.

Sturtevant said there are certain rules and regulations in Maine that make it expensive to operate a general contracting firm. Still, she said Maine has a good network of industry groups and a collaborative spirit among business owners.

Sturtevant said she has not encountered any prejudice over the fact that she is a female business owner in a traditionally male industry. In February, she became president of the Association of General Contractors of Maine, a leading trade group for the construction industry within the state.

“I’m certainly used to being the only woman in the room,” Sturtevant said.

Still, Corbett said there are opportunities for female entrepreneurs in Maine, along with community groups such as the Maine Women’s Business Center at Coastal Enterprises Inc., in Wiscasset, which was established specifically to promote female-owned business.

“There’s opportunity anywhere,” she said. “If you want to be an entrepreneur, you can be.”

Portland business owner Becky McKinnell said the state’s higher-learning institutions also can serve as gateways to starting a business in Maine.

McKinnell, who owns iBec Creative, a Web-development and marketing firm, said her studies and the contacts she developed at University of Southern Maine were instrumental in helping her start a business.

McKinnel said she came to Maine from Massachusetts to study at USM because it offered a study program that combined art and entrepreneurship.

She won some key awards and grants while attending USM that prompted her to stay in Maine after graduation. That was seven years and 14 employees ago, she said.

“Maine has been very good to my business,” McKinnell said. “I plan to stay here.”

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

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