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NM bright spot: women-owned businesses

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Laura Bruzzese is the owner of two businesses, Live Clay and Paper Turtle. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Laura Bruzzese, an Albuquerque artist who makes funerary urns, is part of the trend.

So is Yasine Armstrong, who ran a local business accelerator and then left to launch her own Web-based company.

In a state where the economy is still sunk in the doldrums, the number of New Mexico businesses owned by women has soared since just before the start of the Great Recession.

A study by American Express OPEN shows a 23.3 percent rise in the number of businesses owned by women between 2007 and 2016. That contrasts with a decline of 2.5 percent in the overall number of businesses in the state during that period.

“It’s the women who are propping you up,” said Julie Weeks, the researcher who conducted the study.

The same pattern is apparent when it comes to employment figures: the number of workers at female-owned firms in the state rose 13 percent during that period, while it declined among all businesses in the state. That gave New Mexico a ranking of 28th nationwide.

For overall growth in women-owned firms, the state was ranked No. 41.

It’s a trend that’s been happening for at least 15 years, and there are several reasons for it, said Agnes Noonan, president of WESST, a  nonprofit small business development group.

One is the private sector’s relatively low salaries in New Mexico, which makes it tempting to branch out, she said.

“It’s particularly true for women who have identified skill sets,” Noonan said. “They start their own business because that’s an opportunity for them to try and generate more revenue than they would (working for someone else) in the private sector.”

Also, although many things have changed for most women, they are still often considered the primary caregiver, and that means they need flexibility, Noonan said.

“We have seen women who want to take control of their schedules, with flexibility that doesn’t often come in the corporate or government environment,” said Armstrong, who started Ignite Accelerator at Central New Mexico Community College. She left and began a business with three others in September called babypage.com, where parents can create and purchase baby books.

Armstrong said New Mexico is a good place to start a business because there are lots of places to get help and because things like office space cost less than they might elsewhere.

Bruzzese started her business, Live Clay, in 2008, to market her ceramic work. She is about to launch an offshoot, Paper Turtle, which will focus on her handmade funerary urns.

Bruzzese said having her own business has allowed her flexibility and the ability to “operate it according to my own values.”

“You have a vision, and you see it come to life the way you want,” she said.

Noonan said there is still work to be done. She wants to see the growth in women’s businesses result in more jobs and more revenues. Nationwide, such businesses employ only 6 percent of the workforce and generate about 4 percent of all business revenues.

She didn’t have a similar figure for New Mexico, but said many women are “solopreneurs” who have no other employees. She estimated that three-quarters of the state’s solopreneurs are women.

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