Revitalize Rural Missouri By Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

This article originally appeared in Rural Missouri

This year’s State of Entrepreneurship Report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that while startup activity is expanding beyond Silicon Valley to places like St. Louis and Kansas City, rural areas are getting left behind. In 1977, more than two out of every ten U.S. startups were in rural areas. Today, this number is just over one in every ten.

This steep decline in new business creation is a real challenge for rural communities, and women may be the key to solving it. 

About one-third of all businesses in Missouri are owned by women, and we know that entrepreneurship and self-employment are essential ways for women to achieve financial independence and pursue more flexible, rewarding careers.

That’s why, as an organization dedicated to empowering women economically, Women’s Foundation teamed up with researchers at the University of Missouri to study the barriers that can hold women back and identify solutions to make it easier for them to achieve their dreams. 

We found that occupational licensing, the requirements that govern professions ranging from cosmetology to architecture, have expanded dramatically over the past five decades, and that women are more likely to work in occupations that have these requirements.

And while these regulations are intended to promote public health and safety, they can actually restrict economic opportunity by making it harder for women to start new businesses or enter new professions.

When it takes 20 times longer to become a licensed cosmetologist than an emergency medical technician (EMT), it’s time to re-evaluate how these licenses are working – and not working – for women and their families.

For example, moving across state lines shouldn’t mean losing your right to practice your profession. But that’s exactly what happens to many women who relocate, only to find out they need to start from scratch to legally perform their work. 

New technologies have also given consumers a vast new array of tools to evaluate the quality of goods and services. Lawmakers should consider replacing some licenses with less-burdensome alternatives like certificates and private sector solutions like consumer reviews.

Instead of just automatically approving a new regulation every time it’s proposed, we’re advocating for a law that would require each new licensing requirement to undergo a vigorous cost-benefit analysis and periodic reviews.

Finally, women continue to be underrepresented on the boards and commissions that govern these regulations, which means they don’t have a voice in the process. Appointing more women, as our Appointments Project is working to do, will ensure women have a seat at the table when these regulations are being developed.

The good news is there’s a growing consensus – on both sides of the aisle – on the need to tackle these occupational licensing barriers.

Here in Missouri, Gov. Eric Greitens created a Boards and Commissions Task Force, which recently recommended a set of reforms – informed by our research – that would eliminate and consolidate a number of occupational licensing boards and reduce barriers facing women entrepreneurs.

Together, we can make it easier for women to start and grow their businesses – and rev up rural America’s economy in the process. 

The Women’s Foundation promotes equity and opportunity for women of all ages, using philanthropy, research and policy solutions to make meaningful change.  More information about the organization can be found at