ANDERSON — As businesses owned by women become more commonplace across the country, Central Indiana is emerging as a microcosm of that trend.
Female participation in the American workforce has been on the rise since the 1950s, and female entrepreneurship has risen along with it. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of women business owners nationwide rose by 4% from 2005 to 2017. Currently, women comprise 31% of all business owners in the United States.
In Indiana — and specifically in Central Indiana — the trend is even more pronounced.
A study by e-commerce software company Volusion ranked the region including Indianapolis, Carmel and Anderson No. 10 in the country in terms of the percentage of women business owners. The area boasts 9,936 female business owners, or 34% of all businesses in the region. Several local business leaders noted that figure is less than five points below the top-rated metro area, Tucson, Arizona, where 38% of all business owners are women.
“This is progress,” said Mary Jamerson, who owns Myers Autoworld on Scatterfield Road. “I view this as the type of thing where a rising tide lifts all boats. The economic benefits of women stepping up in the business world, that has a way of spreading out to families, to all areas.”
Factors like lower rent on building space and an influx of jobs in skilled manufacturing and other industries have also enticed more female entrepreneurs to explore Madison County.
Lindsay Montgomery and Charity Rees saw an opportunity in an empty storefront at the corner of 9th and Meridian streets in downtown Anderson. They decided to pursue a shared dream of opening their own business.
With Montgomery’s background in gymnastics and Rees as the only licensed bungee instructor in Indiana, a bungee-focused workout center emerged. The pair presented their plan at the first Vesuvius Coworking Pitch Night in January 2018 and won more than $7,000 to put toward opening the business in July of that year.
Fourteen months later, AerialFit2Fly is a key part of a business lineup that economic development officials are touting to promote a revitalized downtown.
“I think in our climate in Anderson, it’s a good time to start a business for anybody,” Montgomery said. “The economy is getting better here, and people are wanting to get out and do more things. (Anderson) is a great place for anybody to start a business right now.”
The county has an abundance of consulting resources for those starting a business. The Flagship Enterprise Center’s nonprofit lending arm, Bankable, offers small business loans in amounts ranging from $5,000 to $250,000. Bankable also provides advice on formulating business plans, logistical planning and other considerations for entrepreneurs.
“I honestly believe we’re blessed to have resources like (Bankable), because they actually walk women through those things and help them navigate those murky waters so they can get to a place where they can say, ‘Yes, I think I can do that,’” Jamerson said.
“Even before they get a loan, we’re trying to help them get started,” Bankable Executive Director Adam Hoeksema said. “I hope that is making a difference in terms of why the Indy metro area is on that list."
Area banks and credit unions are also seen as generally supportive of female entrepreneurs — or at least willing to consider loans when presented with detailed and thorough business plans, according to Greg Winkler, executive director of the Anderson Economic Development Department. Winkler also pointed to the city of Anderson's revolving loan fund and its work with local lenders as other mechanisms available to help women in business.
“I kind of grew into each space,” said Cathy Gray, who owns an interior design studio and an event center in Anderson. “I did not take loans out originally, but I did when I found my building. The local banks were so supportive. It seems like especially with retail, as soon as things are paid off, it’s time to go to market again. You just have to believe in what you’re doing and go for it.”
AnnaMarie Hinton recalls visiting with officials at two local financial institutions and coming away feeling encouraged as she was preparing to purchase a PIP Printing franchise prior to rebranding it and opening JAM Printing in 2010.
“We’d brainstorm, and everybody encourages each other,” Hinton said. “It truly was professional, and they would have told me if they thought it was a risk.”
The Volusion study also examined trends across several different industries, finding that higher percentages of female business owners were more typical in educational services, health care, social assistance and arts and entertainment.
Those findings didn’t surprise Montgomery and Rees. Their venture, they say, was an ideal pairing of their shared passions and discovering a niche that met a unique demand in the local marketplace.
“We saw a need for it in Anderson,” Montgomery said. "There’s not a lot of places like ours that are just for women. That’s kind of what it’s evolved into, a place where women can come and feel good. We’re just kind of drawn to that sort of sense of team building and community environment.”
From her experience, Hinton says that consumers in the area respond well to business ideas that are well thought out, carefully planned and which meet clear demands for a product or service — regardless of industry.
“There are a lot of people in Madison County, in my opinion, who have been instrumental in helping women and encouraging women to step out of their comfort zone and become business owners and not just a worker bee,” Hinton said.
For Gray, the numbers aren’t necessarily tied to financing. It's more about commitment to an idea and then putting in the sweat equity.
“I think there may be a lot to that,” Gray said. “But it just depends on how much you believe in your business. I did not look at those risks. In hindsight I did it the way I did because I believed this was going to be successful — not for any other reason. Not because I’m a woman, but because I work hard. Successful people do things others don’t want to do.
“It’s hard, and it just takes a lot of work," she added. "If you’re willing to put in the work, you can have it.”