Originally created 09/22/05

Women try to jump-start businesses storm halted



ATLANTA - The day before Hurricane Katrina struck, Vienna Abramowitz threw her business computer in her car with some clothes and fled first to Mobile, Ala., and eventually to Atlanta. Weeks after Katrina's destruction of the Gulf Coast, the New Orleans woman still is looking to restart her employment business, which links technicians and laborers with companies.

In her computer, Ms. Abramowitz still has her clients and business contacts, but she's hundreds of miles away from her home and office.

On Wednesday, organizers of an Atlanta conference for businesswomen hoped to help by linking Ms. Abramowitz and a handful of other New Orleans businesswomen with the know-how and help of other women who run their own businesses across the South.

"I'm hoping to find some direction," she said. "At the very least, I have a huge database full of local, able-bodied individuals who would come back if they had something to do."

Organizers Leslie Grossman and Andrea March created Women's Leadership Exchange, which holds a series of conferences each year in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York and southern California to help women develop their businesses.

They provided scholarships for the one-day Atlanta conference to businesswomen displaced by the hurricane to allow them to tap into the "new women's network," a play on words on the traditional "old boy's network" of male-dominated business enterprises. Similar scholarships will be offered at their Nov. 3 conference in New York.

"Women now have a network," Ms. Grossman said. "We're experts at helping women grow their businesses."

Through the exchange's Web site, displaced businesswomen can find anything from expertise to business contacts to donated office space.

"My heart goes out to everyone affected by Katrina. I own a business in Reston, Va., and we could squeeze our employees together to make room for a business owner that has been displaced. You can have access to all of our facilities while you get back on your feet," reads one post on the Web site.

Officials at the Atlanta conference also were collecting donated business attire and purses, as many evacuees such as Sonia Taylor, of New Orleans, left with only enough clothes for three days.

"I'm looking for connections and inspiration" from the conference, said Ms. Taylor, who with her husband operates Two Dots LLC, a commercial and residential real estate development business in New Orleans. "I'm looking at the women in general and the things they're doing, their inspiring stories."