WASHINGTON – Senator Olympia J. Snowe and Senator John F. Kerry, Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, have introduced bipartisan legislation, The Women’s Small Business Ownership Programs Act of 2006 (S. 3659), which will help increase the number of women-owned small businesses and strengthen the successful Women’s Business Center (WBC) Program.

“As Chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, my goal is to ensure that every woman who owns a small business in America - or any woman who dreams of owning one – has access to the resources and support they need to embark on that next, great entrepreneurial adventure. This legislation will help them achieve that goal,” said Senator Snowe. “The Women’s Business Center program provides the essential tools and opportunities necessary for women-owned small business to create jobs and compete in the global economy. In my home state of Maine more than 63,000 women-owned firms generated an astounding $9 billion in sales, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research.”

“Women entrepreneurs are driving innovation in our country, and Women’s Business Centers are a tool that helps them keep America competitive. These centers help turn business plans into business success. We can keep this momentum going, and help women entrepreneurs succeed if we make a real commitment to small businesses in Washington,” said Kerry.

The Women’s Small Business Ownership Programs Act of 2006 allows new Women’s Business Centers to receive an initial four-year grant, with only the proven, successful centers able to receive additional three-year renewal grants. Thus, experienced centers will not be forced to shut down due to a lack of funding and women will continue receiving assistance from both new and existing WBCs. This concept of sustaining centers beyond their initial grant cycle was introduced by Senator Kerry in 1999 in his Women's Business Center Sustainability Pilot Program. Senator Snowe was a cosponsor of that legislation. The proposal also improves the independent National Women’s Business Council, which advises the President and Congress on issues affecting female entrepreneurs, by ensuring the Administration makes bipartisan appointments and by allowing the Council to take a more active role in business research and promotion. To increase the involvement of the women’s business community, the legislation calls for more consultation with the Association of Women’s Business Centers, the National Women’s Business Council and the Interagency Committee on Women’s Business Enterprise.

According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) which runs the WBC program, there are more than 9 million women-owned businesses employing 27.5 million people and contributing $3.6 trillion to the economy.

To read Kerry's floor statement on this bill, click here.