AJ Ashenbrenner and Theresa Kronforst, owners of Schroeder’s Department Store in Two Rivers.

Women-owned businesses are among the fastest-growing segments of the entire U.S. economy, according to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. While the trend of women’s entrepreneurship on the rise is seen across all sectors and geographies, in Wisconsin it is especially pronounced in the state’s historic districts and downtowns, according to new research from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

The research showed that nearly 40 percent of all businesses in the 27 Wisconsin Main Street districts surveyed were women-owned. Furthermore, this trend applied not only to sectors traditionally thought of as women’s industries, such as beauty or clothing. Women-owned businesses thrive in Wisconsin’s downtowns, and these entrepreneurs’ presence and expertise benefits not the local economy and the entire community.

Exterior view of Schroeder’s Department Store

For example, the research showed that more than 60 percent of women business owners in the surveyed communities were actively involved in their local districts through participation in downtown organizations, holding civic office or supporting other community initiatives.

AJ Ashenbrenner and Theresa Kronforst, owners of Schroeder’s Department Store in Two Rivers, are interviewed in the report as examples of civic-minded Wisconsin women business owners. Since taking over the store in 2008, the duo has modernized and transformed this community fixture. Ashenbrenner and Kronforst made it a priority to build relationships with other women in the local business community to collaborate and solve problems, and these connections helped the long-standing business to grow.

Interior view of Schroeder's Department Store

Interior view of Schroeder’s Department Store

With such relationship-building, a small business is more likely to succeed. In addition, the research found that businesses that sought and/or received assistance in their communities had a more favorable impression of the startup process and the host community itself. Since this support–which may come in the form of mentorship, networking groups, or financial and other business assistance–influences both business outcomes and perceptions, the research indicates it is a good investment.

Read the full report to learn more.