Philly city official to lead women's business group

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Angela Dowd-Burton.

Philadelphia's former executive director of the Office of Economic Opportunity began a new role Monday as president of the Women's Business Development Center, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit dedicated to building up businesses run by women.

Angela Dowd-Burton, who worked for the city twice in economic development, left her city post Friday and started her new job on Monday.  The Women's Business Development Center, which has 10 employees and an annual budget of $1.2 million to $1.5 million, is also known as the Women's Business Enterprise Council of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey.

Dowd-Burton replaces Geri Swift, the president of the organization she co-founded with Ellen Fisher in 1995, when Swift, as a fledgling entrepreneur, could not find other women-owned businesses as suppliers, customers, or colleagues.

One of its chief functions is to certify that women are in fact the owners and executives in businesses that claim to be owned and run by women, so the businesses can qualify for government or business supplier diversity programs. WBEC has certified nearly 1,200 women-owned firms since 2000, the organization said.

The organization also holds workshops on starting and running businesses. Registration for one of them, a five-week series on starting a business, marketing, developing a business plan, and analyzing finances, will close on Jan. 12.

Dowd-Burton said a key goal will be to encourage "a more collaborative spirit to pursue larger opportunities." The idea, she said, is that female business owners can enter into joint ventures with other female business owners, so that together, as partners, they can bid on larger contracts, enabling them to grow their businesses more quickly rather than just adding a new contract or two a year.

She said she also wants to expand relationships with corporate America "to increase the number of corporations that have successful supplier diversity programs and to make sure we have women-owned businesses that are ready, willing, and able to do business."  

Throughout her career, Dowd-Burton has worked in procurement, finance, and supply-chain management, most recently in Philadelphia city government, for the Michael Nutter and Jim Kenney administrations. Until Friday, she was a deputy director of commerce and the executive director of the Office of Economic Development. In the 1980s, she also worked in the Commerce Department during the administration of W. Wilson Goode. In between, she held positions in supply chain management and government relations with Dow Chemical and Rohm & Haas.

Swift, who is retiring, will remain active as a board member and as president emerita during the transition period.

Swift said her biggest accomplishment was instituting the third-party certification program. "As a result," she said, "women have been able to grow their companies, hire more employees, and contribute to their communities. We're changing the lives of women, one business at a time."