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Business training for women expands

September 17, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Women earn an average 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. Women change jobs more often than men - on average every 4.8 years. And, because most pension plans typically vest employees after five years, the average woman is less likely to build retirement dollars through a pension plan.

Jocelyne J. Askins, a personal financial analyst, throws out these statistics to a small but attentive audience in a classroom at Hagerstown Community College's Technical Innovation Center.

Using props including a jar of candy, stacks of phony money and a toaster, Askins proceeds to give an animated presentation on how the average working woman can eliminate debt, find the money needed to invest for a comfortable retirement and start doing it.

Afterward, the all-female audience breaks into smaller groups for lively discussions of Askins' suggestions - which included cutting up all but one credit card, using cash whenever possible and putting at least four months' worth of living expenses into an emergency fund.

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Only 10 women attended the Women's Business Roundtable event on Sept. 9.

A workshop for women thinking about starting a business the night before drew eight women, including the local women business owners asked to share their experiences with the budding entrepreneurs, said Diane England, program director for the Taneytown, Md.-based Women's Business Institute.

The thin attendance doesn't mean the programs weren't a success, England said.

While she admits it has been difficult getting Hagerstown-area women out to such programs in the past, interest seems to be building in the area, she said.

Attendance is expected to grow thanks to new funding that has transformed the Women's Business Institute from a shoestring operation offering programs on a limited and sporadic basis since 1996 to a bona fide U.S Small Business Administration Women's Center.

Working from new offices in Taneytown, Md., the non-profit group plans to expand programming in Washington County and other rural areas of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania thanks to two major grants awarded this year.

With backing from the SBA's Office of Business Ownership and the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Women's Business Institute will be able to offer more programs more regularly, said founder and Chief Executive Officer Bea Checket.

The SBA grant, providing $750,000 over the next five years, is aimed at helping women in rural areas start and grow businesses.

The roughly $100,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant is targeted for Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties and will help the Women's Business Institute develop more programs and expand existing ones in the counties, Checket said.

The Women's Business Roundtable meetings, "spotty" before, will be presented quarterly in both Washington and Frederick counties from now on, she said.

The roundtable meetings - aimed at women in business but open to men - provide both an educational and networking opportunity for participants, Checket said.

Held in the morning over a continental breakfast, they always include a speaker on a "meaty" topic of interest to business women, like Askins' presentation or the one on handling stress scheduled for the Sept. 30 roundtable in Frederick, she said.

Free workshops aimed at giving women who are thinking about starting a business a firsthand view of what it takes also will be offered quarterly.

For those who decide they want to move ahead with their plans, the Women's Business Institute offers its FastTrac programs, Checket said.

FastTrac I, for those starting a business or in business less than two years, is being offered at Hagerstown Community College this fall.

FastTrac II, a next-step program for people who have been in business two years or more, will probably be offered at the college early next year, she said.

Women come out of the nine-week FastTrac I course with a business plan, a sort of "road map" for what they need to do to be successful, Checket said.

Lack of a solid business plan is the reason most new businesses fail, she said.

The 11-week FastTrac II helps existing business owners develop a plan for growth.

Training for women who'd like to mentor other women will be offered this winter in Hagerstown and Frederick, Checket said.

Fees are charged for the roundtables and FastTrac courses to help defray the costs, she said.

The roundtables cost $15. The FastTrac I course is $350.

Programs like the Women's Business Institute are definitely needed, said Sherrye Henry, assistant administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Women's Business Ownership.

Most people don't realize the explosion of entrepreneurship among women that's taken place in the past 10 to 15 years, Henry said.

Since the early 1990s, women have been starting businesses at twice the rate of men, she said. Hispanic women have been starting them at three times the rate of men.

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