Women at the front: Gender no barrier to entrepreneurship

Linda Petrie is president of Northern Glass in Watertown. She runs the company with her brother, Ian Hill. Photo by Justin Sorensen.

Women owned approximately 7.8 million businesses, excluding farms, in the United States in 2007, according to the most recent Survey of Business Owners published by the U.S. Census Bureau. In that same survey, New York State reported 594,421 women-owned firms, with a total of $84 billion in receipts, making it third behind California and Texas for the number of women entrepreneurs.

But the statistics don’t tell the whole story.

Many north country women striving to build their own businesses have found that balancing work and family life can be a challenge, but it’s part of what makes them successful.

Gender lines seem to be disappearing when it comes to parenting, as many women and men are increasingly sharing child-care duties, said Lynn M. Pietroski, president and CEO of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce.

“There are more day care options available for women who work outside of the home,” Mrs. Pietroski said.

But for those women who want to stay home with their children, there are numerous businesses that can be successfully run at home, thanks to the Internet, such as sales or consulting work, she said.

“These types of businesses allow a woman to stay at home, take care of her children, and draw an income at the same time,” Mrs. Pietroski said.
In families with older children, it’s not uncommon for the children, and sometimes the spouse, to help with the operation of the woman-owned business.

Some women also find that reaching out to other business owners can provide them with valuable support, guidance and encouragement as they work toward success.

Networking among women business owners allows them the opportunity to exchange information about their services and programs, and at the same time, discuss the challenges involved in operating their own businesses, said Michelle A. Collins, certified business adviser with the state Small Business Development Center at SUNY Canton.

That organization provides counseling services to St. Lawrence County residents who are interested in starting their own businesses. Approximately half of the center’s clients are female, Ms. Collins said.
The SBDC plans a women’s conference each year in Canton to give business owners an opportunity to meet each other. This year’s event will be co-sponsored with Women TIES, a Syracuse-based networking organization for women entrepreneurs. It will take place May 22 in Canton, with plans still being finalized for the location, Ms. Collins said.

In addition to the networking opportunities, the SBDC has been receiving more requests for assistance from women entrepreneurs who want to learn how to secure government contracts, she said.

There are two certification programs for women: the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program and the New York State Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise programs.

For some, it’s worth the long application process, especially if they can offer a service that is “underrepresented” by women, particularly in the construction fields, Ms. Collins said.

Sarah C. O’Connell, certified business adviser with the state Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College, said “mainly because of Fort Drum, we are seeing more women interested in these certifications.”

“It’s a very rigorous process,” she said. “A woman has to be a key part of the business.”

For example, “if a woman has other employment, that could work against her application,” Ms. O’Connell said. “We see businesses that have been operated by the same families, but are now being passed down to a woman in the family, or a woman is starting her own business.”

In both cases, they may offer services that would be eligible for government contracts, she said.

The Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce can also help women through the North Country Procurement Technical Center, which is operated at the chamber offices, 1241 Coffeen St., said Mrs. Pietroski.

The service was started in 2008 to help local businesses expand through government contracting, particularly at Fort Drum.
The SBDC in Watertown has also served military wives who are not necessarily interested in government contracting, but are trying to re-establish their businesses in the north country since their spouses were transferred to Fort Drum, Ms. O’Connell said.

“We have seen many Fort Drum spouses who have portable businesses that can be set up anywhere, such as digital photography or online consulting,” she said. “There is really a broad spectrum of these types of businesses.”

Women seeking assistance can contact the SBDC at JCC, 782-9262, the SBDC at SUNY Canton, 386-7312, or the Watertown Chamber at 788-4400.

Four north country women who own very different businesses recently shared their success stories, along with the challenges they faced along the way.

Linda H. Petrie, president and co-owner of Northern Glass Co. on Route 37 in Watertown, can still remember the strange looks she received when she walked onto a construction site in Carthage many years ago. She was eight months pregnant at the time.

Along with the “funny looks” from the male workers, she was immediately offered an arm and an escort around the area from an older gentleman who insisted she not walk by herself, Mrs. Petrie said. But for the most part, Mrs. Petrie hasn’t faced much opposition in a field that is typically dominated by men.

“Most people don’t care, as long as you take care of them,” she said. Mrs. Petrie co-owns Northern Glass with her brother, Ian Hill. The company has installed glass in numerous buildings throughout the north country, including the Samaritan Medical Center’s new pavilion in Watertown, SUNY Potsdam campus buildings and the Fort Drum Commissary.

They also offer residential services, including sunrooms and shower installations, along with auto glass repair in the company’s body shop.
Although Mrs. Petrie grew up in the family business, she didn’t initially plan to help take it over. The company was first started on Newell Street in 1949. Mrs. Petrie’s father, John Hill, took over as manager in the 1960s. The next decade, he and his wife, Jean, purchased the business.

“I’ve been coming into the business since I was 13 years old,” she said. “All of us kids would come in on Saturdays to help. We would clean and mow the lawns.”

After graduating from General Brown High School, Dexter, in 1975, Mrs. Petrie went to SUNY Geneseo, earned a business degree, and later moved to Texas.

“I didn’t think I would ever come back,” she said. But she decided to return in 1982 to help her parents out for “only a year or so,” she said.
Mrs. Petrie has been with the business ever since.

As the oldest sibling, she became president and her younger brother, Ian Hill, became vice-president when their father retired in the early 1990s. It was in 1998 that Mrs. Petrie decided to take the steps necessary to become a certified woman-owned business enterprise in New York State. The task, however, was not a simple one. It took Mrs. Petrie four years to accomplish.

“At the time I had applied,” the WBE designation was perceived by many as a way for a man to put a business in a woman’s name in order to gain an advantage in bidding government contracts, she said.But in reality, there is an in-depth review process to ensure that an applicant is a legitimate one, she said.

“It’s very involved,” she said.

In her case, there were lengthy phone interviews conducted by state officials to determine if she was actually a key part of the business operation, Mrs. Petrie said. There was also more than 100 pages of documentation that had to be submitted for review.

“I told them that I was here five days a week and I would often come in on the weekends to do whatever work was necessary,” she said. “I told them this wasn’t just a hobby.”

She was asked about the projects that the company had completed, along with the finances, the key personnel and the family involvement.

Mrs. Petrie’s husband, Terry D. Petrie, is director of the Northern New York Builders Exchange and is not involved in the business operation.

In the long run, it was worth it for Northern Glass to have that designation, because many federally-funded projects at Fort Drum and those funded by the state require a certain percentage of contracts be awarded to woman-owned or minority-owned businesses, she said.

Today, the company employs between 20 to 30 people, depending on project schedules.

Although Northern Glass is a family operation, she and her brother have managed to separate business and family, Mrs. Petrie said.

“Some family businesses really struggle with relationships,” she said. “But at the end of the day, we’re family and we still love each other. When my parents were running it together, they didn’t talk about business at home. Now at the end of the day, when I’m done with work, I’m done.”

Her children ? Peter Hatch, 30, Erin Hatch, 28, and Christine Petrie, 24 ? have all been involved with the Northern Glass business at one time or another. Christine still handles the company payroll and the human resources.
Andrea R. Doane-Lomber found herself juggling dual careers while raising her two children alone after her husband’s death in 1996.

Mrs. Doane-Lomber, who remarried several years ago, became a widow after her late husband, Kerry M. Doane, a Watertown City firefighter, took his life at age 42.

At the time, Mr. Doane and his family were operating the nine-hole Rustic Golf and Country Club on Route 59 in Pillar Point. After her husband’s death, part ownership was passed along to Mrs. Doane-Lomber, who later decided to purchase the remaining portion of the business from her sister-in-law. She is now president and 100 percent stockholder.

The golf course employs nine people, including several family members, and operates from April to October. It includes a restaurant and a bar, which are open to the public.

One of the biggest challenges in operating the golf course has been the competition, Mrs. Doane-Lomber said.

“Only about 10 percent of people play golf,” she said. “There are only so many golfers to go around.”

Maintaining the property is also a challenge, but her family helps with the operation. Her husband, John Lomber, manages the pro shop. Her son, Sean Doane, a self-employed contractor, maintains the golf course and does the equipment maintenance. Her daughter, Erica Doane, a SUNY Potsdam student, helps manage the restaurant and bar.

“I consider all the employees family,” Mrs. Doane-Lomber said. “I have worked with them for many years. They are local people from the Pillar Point area.”

A large part of operating a golf course involves the labor to maintain it, she said.

“We have nine holes to manicure, and a short time to do so,” she said. “We basically have a short period of time each year to make it.”

Prior to her husband’s death, Mrs. Doane-Lomber had started a bookkeeping service in 1987 out of their house in Pillar Point so she could stay at home with the two children. Her son was five years old and her daughter was one year old at the time.

She was keeping books for the Rustic Golf Course and Country Club, but decided she wanted to expand her business and take on other customers. It was at that time Mrs. Doane-Lomber set a goal for herself. She wanted to become a certified public accountant.

However, it was a long time before she achieved that goal.

“I went to school part-time for many, many years,” she said. “Looking back, it was something that I wish I had done before having kids.

Raising a family on your own, working and trying to get all your school work done is a real challenge. She eventually received an accounting degree in 2004 through SUNY Empire State College.

At age 45, Mrs. Doane-Lomber became a certified public accountant. She worked in the Watertown firm of Jerry Gardner for several years before she decided it was time to start her own business, as sole proprietor of a certified public accounting firm.

“[Mr. Gardner] was really my mentor,” while she worked as a bookkeeper and later a CPA at his firm, Mrs. Doane-Lomber said.

In 2008, she established her own business, Doane CPA Firm, and set up shop in her Pillar Point home. Mrs. Doane-Lomber does audits and tax returns for individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations. She also maintains a CPA license in Florida, where her mother resides. Mrs. Doane-Lomber does audits for homeowners associations in the Orlando area.

Mrs. Doane-Lomber’s daughter is following in her mother’s footsteps. Erica is studying for an accounting degree and plans to eventually become a CPA. Sean’s girlfriend, Melissa Bourgal, works as a staff accountant, tax preparer and bookkeeper for the Doane CPA Firm.

“There is no way I could do all of this without my family,” she said.

Julie Ablan- Woodrow, owner Ablan Business Center, works at her store on Main Street, Gouverneur. Photo by Melanie Kimbler-Lago.

A major car accident that left Julie M. Ablan-Woodrow with multiple injuries nearly 15 years ago lead the Gouverneur woman to eventually build her own downtown Gouverneur business.

Ablan’s Business Center, 47 E. Main St., offers a range of services, including computer repairs and sales, copying and faxing, along with office supplies. The business also has an AT&T cellular phone store, along with a UPS shipping center.

Mrs. Ablan-Woodrow’s journey to become a successful woman entrepreneur started after the car accident in 1998. Her injuries, which included a concussion, four broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a compound fracture of her right leg, made it nearly impossible to work full-time outside the home.

She refused to feel sorry for herself, and instead decided to take advantage of her self-taught computer repair skills and start a home business – Julie’s Computers.

A grant from the New York State Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities helped her get the business off the ground.

“I could fix anything on a desktop,” she said. “My husband would bring home computers from work and tell me his co-workers couldn’t get on the Internet. I would fix them for him and he’d take them back.”

She later started changing modems, video and sound cards.  In 2003, she decided it was time to move the business out of the house and into a storefront on Church Street.

The computer repair service quickly expanded after moving downtown. Mrs. Ablan-Woodrow later picked up the office supply business after a local supplier closed its doors, and opened the UPS shipping center after another store stopped the service. She added the AT&T phone business to meet an unmet need in the area.

Mrs. Ablan-Woodrow moved her business into its current location in June 2005 after purchasing the building. In 2010, she went from being a sole proprietor to a corporation and now has three part-time employees.

A grant from the St. Lawrence County Local Development Corp., along with assistance from the Small Business Development Center in Canton, helped her to expand, she said.

Mrs. Ablan-Woodrow said she also received a great amount of family support. Her husband, Larry E., and two sons, Michael, a senior at LeMoyne College, Syracuse, majoring in finance and information systems management, and Frankie, a Canton ATC student, have all helped out at the business.

“I was raised that family comes first,” she said. “It worked well being at home when the boys were younger.”

Even after she moved the business to downtown Gouverneur, her family still came first, Mrs. Ablan-Woodrow said.

“If one of the boys needed something, I would lock up the store, put a note on the door and leave to take care of it,” she said.

Berchele McManimon signs the phrase "Interpreters should follow rules," while posing in the Flower Memorial Library. Ms. McManimon owns an interpreting service for the deaf. Photo by Amanda Morrison.

Berchele McManimon signs the phrase “Interpreters should follow rules,” while posing in the Flower Memorial Library. Ms. McManimon owns an interpreting service for the deaf. Photo by Amanda Morrison. It was a childhood crush that first prompted Berchele L. McManimon to learn sign language.

“He was 13 years old,” she laughed. “He was a cute boy in the church choir. He was also deaf.”

She was growing up in the south side of Los Angeles at the time; just a few blocks away from the infamous South Central rioting that took place in the early 1990s.  A teenager herself, she decided the only way to communicate with the young boy at church was to learn sign language from his deaf friends.

“It was total immersion,” Mrs. McManimon said. “The deaf community taught me how to communicate.”

At the time, her godparents were also working as interpreters, so she was able to learn

American Sign Language from both the teenagers and the adults.

“When I was in high school, most of my friends were deaf,” she said. “That was my family.”

After graduating from high school, Mrs. McManimon worked as a sign language interpreter and later continued her education, graduating from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, with a psychology degree.

While the childhood crush didn’t quite work out, the interpretation career took off. She was able to find work at several schools in the Los Angeles area providing educational interpreting for both students and staff.

Then she met her future husband, Timothy S. McManimon, an Army soldier. After their marriage, the couple was transferred to Hawaii, Washington and eventually Fort Drum.

Her interpreting skills could be used anywhere, so it wasn’t long after arriving in the north country that Mrs. McManimon began working as a freelance interpreter.

“When you are in the military family, you meet a lot of people” and make a lot of connections that help with “word-of-mouth” advertising, she said.

Mrs. McManimon also received support getting established in the area from Jackie Frechette, an American Sign Language instructor at Jefferson Community College.

“She was my mentor,” Mrs. McManimon said.

After freelancing for several years, she decided to establish her own business, MASLIS Interpreting Services. She is currently operating as a DBA, but is in the process of becoming a limited liability company.

Mrs. McManimon does not have any employees, although she will occasionally subcontract with other interpreters if needed.

“This is a rural area, and I really saw a need for this type of service,” she said. “The deaf community has really made me very welcome.”

Mrs. McManimon, who has a 13-year-old daughter, Addie, is providing interpretation services in both Jefferson and Lewis counties.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that an interpreter be provided for a deaf person in public settings, as well as many private ones. The law applies to entities such as hospitals, doctor’s offices, municipalities, schools and businesses. The cost of the interpretation service is covered by the entity, not the deaf person, she said. There are some tax incentives, however, available to private businesses that pay for the service.

“The only time a person would pay for the interpreter is for a private gathering, such as a wedding or a family reunion,” she said.

Interpreters must be sure that the message they are translating for the deaf person is exact, particularly in cases involving medical advice, such as directions on how to take a medication, Mrs. McManimon said.

It’s not uncommon for interpreters to work together, for example, to cover a meeting lasting more than two hours, or for a school play, which involves several dialogues, she said.

Written by By Norah Machia, a freelance writer for NNY Business