TAMPA __ The House of Representatives has passed the bipartisan Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act, which would increase access to resources and opportunities for female entrepreneurs across the nation including Tampa Bay.

U.S. Representative Sharice Davids (D-KA) reintroduced this bill in January along with U.S. Representative Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and it passed yesterday with strong bipartisan support.

The Centre for Women operates the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre and is part of a national network of 141 WBCs nationwide. Ann W. Madsen, Executive Director of the Centre for Women, chairs the Advocacy Committee for the Association of Women’s Business Centers. “This is a giant step forward for this program which was established 30 years ago to help women succeed and now serves more than 88,000 business owners annually.”

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL14), who helped to secure the initial funding for the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre, said: “The Centre for Women provides crucial assistance to Tampa Bay’s women small business owners, and I am particularly grateful that the Centre provided a critical lifeline for many during the pandemic.  As the Tampa Bay economy grows, I am proud to support local female entrepreneurs through the work of the Centre for Women and the bipartisan bill passed yesterday.” Rep. Castor said. “I’m grateful that our Tampa Bay community can rely on The Centre for Women to support the local businesses that make Tampa so special. This legislation will ensure that they have the resources to continue their good work in the days ahead.”

The Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre served more than 2,000 clients last year. Tampa leads the nation in the growth of female-owned businesses. Women-owned businesses employ 9.4 million people nationwide and contribute $1.2 trillion to our economy each year, but throughout the pandemic, female entrepreneurs have been more likely to close their doors—making these resources even more vital.

Dr. Kerry Szymanski, Director of the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre, said: “We are excited to see this bipartisan bill move forward and we welcome the opportunity to reach more women across Tampa Bay and lift up our entire local economy.”

She said: “During the pandemic, we adapted many of our programs to be virtual, relying on federal funding and the CARES Act to continue to service the strong entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tampa Bay.” 

Madsen, who founded the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre in 2013, said the Women’s Business Centers Improvement Act reauthorizes the WBC program for four years, increases the authorization level from $18 million annually to $31.5 million, and increases the cap on individual center grants for the first time since the program began. The bill also establishes an accreditation program run by the Association of Women’s Business Centers to ensure all WBCs provide excellent service and counseling.

The Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre is the only SBA-designated Women’s Business Centre on the West Coast of Florida. It serves entrepreneurs across six different counties with trainings, workshops, counseling, and access to capital programs targeted at female business owners.