When Pam March founded her Salt Lake City florist store Every Blooming Thing 37 years ago, she found it impossible to get a line of credit as a woman.
She sold her house to get $20,000 to put into the business startup after handing her landlord five $20 bills to hold the building she wanted to lease until she could raise the funds.
“Women’s credit scores are based on their credit and not on their husbands’,” said March. “I couldn’t use my husband’s credit and I never bought anything on [credit], so there was no credit history. I tell new brides to buy something on [credit] so they can have some kind of track record.”
Realizing some of the challenges women business owners such as March face, Zions Bank began its Women’s Financial Group in 1997, an institution that has helped the Salt Lake City-based bank become the top lender of Small Business Administration loans to women and minority-owned businesses and startups in Utah.
Zions Bank celebrated the opening of its higher-profile street level Women’s Financial Group office at 310 S. Main Tuesday.
Chantel Chase, vice president and manager of the group, said it offers free financial seminars, awards micro-grants to women in a variety of fields and provides a smart women grant program.
“The reason the role of women is so important is that nearly 62 percent of Utah women over the age of 16 are in the workforce,” said Chase. “That is 2 percent higher than the national average and it has been trending up 8 percent over each of the few decades.”
That said, according to the U.S. Census, Utah lags behind in the number of women-owned businesses behind the rest of the United States. The census showed that 24.6 percent of businesses are owned by women in Utah, which is lower than the national average of 28.8 percent.
“Zions Bank realizes that women’s financial growth plays a unique and vital role in the industry,” said Chase. “We want to have a community platform for developing women in leadership roles and helping women of all ages and financial situations get the information and assistance they need to start or grow their businesses.”
In announcing the Wasatch Front Consumer Price Index and Consumer Attitude Index Tuesday, Randy Shumway, the CEO of The Cicero Group which compiles the numbers, cited four Utah women as examples of the importance of women in the state.
He said that as deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development since 2011, Sophia DiCaro has helped Utah sign critical trade partnerships with other countries. Laura Kaiser, the chief operator officer for Intermountain Health Care, is in charge of 22 hospitals and 185 medical groups and has helped her company be named as among the best places to work. Lori Chillingsworth, the executive vice president of Zions Bank, has been listed four times in U.S. Banker magazine as among the most powerful women in U.S. banking. And he called Becky Lockhart, Utah’s first female speaker of the House, a leader in Utah’s pro-business growth expansion.
Chase offered other statistics as to the importance of women in the economy:
• Women comprise 44 percent of Utah’s labor force.
• A total of 74.9 percent of women identify as the primary shopper in their household.
• Women control two-thirds of consumer wealth in the United States.
March said things are getting better for her business.
“I am just a Pollyanna,” she said. “Things will be better. I am feeling it. We had clients of big corporations who would say just send something beautiful. The difference now is that they call me and ask me ‘What do I need to spend to make it wonderful?’ They are giving me parameters. I am feeling that loosening up a bit.”
She said that while women might think it is hard now to start a business, women had no access to credit 37 years ago. But she has been successful.
“My goal is not to be big, but be very good,” she said.