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Aug. 31--After more than an hour of debate, Jacksonville Women's Business Center executive director Sandy Bartow polled each woman around a training room table Monday morning. "Are you in?"

One by one, the seven owners and operators responded: "I'm in."

They're in business -- big businesses. They've joined a small sorority of women nationwide whose organizations post annual revenues of at least $1 million and they're attracting attention.

The seven women pledged to serve as mentors to one another as part of the center's first Accomplished Business Advisory Council. Several more prospective members are under consideration.

An estimated 138 women in Northeast Florida hold significant ownership in enterprises that post annual revenues of at least $1 million, according to Women Business Owners of North Florida, and many likely generate much more than that.

A million-dollar business isn't necessarily a large company, but it is a significant accomplishment.

More women business owners are passing that milestone and gaining recognition for it. The advisory council follows last fall's creation of the WBO Million Dollar Circle. WBO identified 138 women who own at least a quarter of their $1 million businesses and the group believes there are more throughout the region.

Granted, it's 2005, and it shouldn't be a big deal that women are running organizations that generate strong revenues. The big deal, however, is that many of those women started their businesses years ago on a shoestring and overcame the inevitable hurdles facing fledgling entrepreneurs.

Veteran women business owners heard the questions: Aren't you just the owner in title, and a man runs the company? Does your husband mind that you are spending so much time on this? Isn't it nice that you have a hobby?

Some of that still goes on, but not so much. That's because at least 28 percent of the nation's companies are majority owned by women and another 18 percent are at least 50 percent owned by women, according to New York Life and the National Women's Business Council. That puts women at the helm of almost half the privately owned companies in the country.

The definition of a woman-owned business varies. What hasn't varied is the growing clout of women-owned organizations of any level.

The national women's council reports that the number of women-owned firms -- equally or majority owned -- grew by 11 percent from 1997 to 2002, compared to 6 percent for all privately held businesses. Revenues rose more, too.

Women and men start and operate businesses differently, research shows, and that's another reason for creation of the Jacksonville advisory council specific to women. Bartow proposed topics: Human resources, financing, marketing, strategic and succession planning, chief executive traits and the "overall business dashboard."

On a national scale, New York Life, citing the Center for Women's Business Research, estimates that at least 110,000 companies that are majority owned by women posted revenues topping $1 million as of 2002.

That means that of the 10.1 million private companies that are at least 50 percent owned by women, just 1.1 percent posted sales of $1 million or more, according to research center data. Looking at the 6.2 million companies that are majority owned by women, 1.8 percent generated such sales.

It's a small sisterhood, but it's one to be taken seriously.


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