His official title sounds hefty — the secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — but Ken Lawson says his primary duty is straightforward.
"My job is to protect citizens, enforce the law and balance it with ways to help businesses grow," he said.
Appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011, the former federal prosecutor oversees the agency that is charged with licensing and regulating businesses and professionals. This includes the areas of cosmetology, construction and real estate, three industries that have grown tremendously in the state in the last few years, Lawson said.
Also growing fast is the number of female-owned businesses in the state.
Lawson's office was unable to provide a breakdown of the new professional and business license applications by gender.
But according to the National Women's Business Council, female-owned businesses increased 39.8 percent in Florida from 2007 to 2012, and about 39 percent of Florida businesses are owned by women.
Nationwide, growth was 27.5 percent during that period, according to the NWBC.
Another study ranked Tampa Bay 11th among 25 major metropolitan owners for growth and economic clout among female-owned businesses.
Lawson's office has recognized women taking the reins in business by hosting a series of gatherings where local female business owners can network and hear career advice and entrepreneurial experiences from top female business leaders.
Now in its fifth year, "Celebrating Women in Business" has previously convened in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Gainesville.
On Thursday, Lawson brings the series to downtown Tampa at the University of South Florida's Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, or CAMLS.
Sitting on the panel are some of the most prominent businesswomen in the area, including Sheila McDevitt, retired senior vice president of general counsel for TECO; Rosie Paulsen, owner of brokerage firm Good Faith Insurance Services; and Machelle Maner, vice president of community development for Wells Fargo.
Maner said she's looking forward to sharing her experience and hearing those of other leaders.
"I think it will be one of those sessions where we learn as much as we get," she said.
Lennise Jackson-Germany, owner of Riverview's Livy O's Catering, said such events are valuable for young female entrepreneurs like her.
"Anytime I can learn from women who have walked in my shoes is priceless," she said.
The gatherings are high-energy settings, but the tone of the discussion has varied from city to city, said Lawson, who moved to Tampa in 1994.
For example, the meeting was "very spiritual" in Gainesville whereas Orlando had a more formal atmosphere, he said.
In addition to the panel discussions, Lawson said other ways his office is helping female-owned companies grow includes decreasing "the barriers to do business."
For example, Lawson said he has initiated changes that have revamped the licensing application process.
Prior to Lawson's tenure, anyone seeking a Florida professional license had to wait 45 days for approval.
That wait time has now been reduced to just two days, he said.
Removing archaic and redundant language from the application helped to better streamline the process, he said.
Additionally, the department has partnered with the University of West Florida to host a conference where veterans and women can learn how to start technology-based businesses, he said.
It's all to assist Florida businesses — owned by both women and men — in flourishing, he said.
"The bottom line as a department is we're sending a message to Floridians that we're trying to help you," he said. "We're constantly looking at what we can do differently."
A Gainesville native, Lawson studied international affairs at Florida State University and before moving on to the university's College of Law.
His resume includes stints as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, a presidential appointment as assistant secretary of enforcement for the U.S. Department of Treasury and assistant chief counsel for field operations with the Transportation Security Administration.
Lawson, 51, was the vice president for compliance for Tampa's financial services firm nFinanSe when Scott tapped him for the secretary job.
He said he's focused on giving his time as secretary "my all, my best," noting that he is the longest-serving person in the position in the last 16 years.
"I've been really lucky," he said.
Contact Kenya Woodard at [email protected]