By John E. Kramer
They are the industrious individuals who ensure your favorite bagel and cream cheese are ready for you first thing in the morning, who make your computers run like a top, who transport you to and from the office, or who ensure that the remains of loved ones who have passed away are buried with dignity and respect. They are American entrepreneurs, and despite all they do for us each day—and all they want to do to make our lives better through free enterprise—too often they find government-imposed roadblocks standing in their way.
To champion the cause of the entrepreneur, the Institute for Justice released in July a series of studies called The Power of One Entrepreneur. Expanding our work to humanize the issue of economic liberty—the right to pursue an honest living in the occupation of your choice free from needless government regulation—the Institute for Justice hired seasoned journalists and policy writers to document the inspirational lives and impact of five entrepreneurs (all former or current IJ clients) to show how they improve individual lives and entire communities through honest enterprise. All the while, each of these slice-of-life narratives shows the reader the many bureaucratic barriers each of these entrepreneurs has faced, barriers with the potential to destroy an entrepreneur’s American Dream. One way or another—either through IJ-initiated litigation or by moving to a freer state—each of the featured entrepreneurs overcame these needless obstacles, but not without serious financial expense and opportunity costs in the form of delays and distractions that prevented them from putting even more people to work and improving the services we use each day.
These reports are an important part of the Institute for Justice’s three-year-long matching-grant campaign to expand our advocacy on behalf of entrepreneurs. For more information on how you can earn IJ a generous matching grant for your donation, visit: www.ij.org/Power.
Those featured in the series of Power of One Entrepreneur reports are:
Funeral home and cemetery owner Kim Powers Bridges from Knoxville, Tenn., who battled bureaucrats in her home state of Oklahoma where she wanted to sell caskets online. Unsuccessful in that fight, she grew a brick-and-mortar business in Tennessee and now has holdings in nine states from the Gulf Coast to New Mexico and Colorado. Read about the dramatic lengths this entrepreneur went to in order to recover and restore the remains of those entrusted to her after Hurricane Katrina hit her newly purchased Mississippi cemetery.
High-tech entrepreneur Thane Hayhurst from Dallas not only helps businesses across the state keep their computers running at peak efficiency, he also places skilled high-tech workers from across the nation in hard-to-fill jobs in Texas and he volunteers for local community centers. Despite all this good work, the state of Texas is threatening to put him out of business under a new law that effectively requires anyone who conducts computer repair to become a licensed private investigator. Sound ridiculous? Well, that’s because it is.
Seattle-area bagel businessman Dennis Ballen donates nearly as many bagels as he sells, supporting nonprofit organizations across his region. But Ballen’s thriving enterprise was almost driven out of business by a local law that barred him from advertising his business. Read about how he joined with IJ to fight for his First Amendment right and, in the process, secured a precedent that has since freed other businesses to advertise. And now he is the undisputed bagel king of the Northwest with 50 employees, including many individuals who would otherwise find it nearly impossible to secure a good job.
New York City commuter van owner Hector Ricketts, too, demonstrates the power of one entrepreneur. Ricketts’ “dollar vans” have battled the politically powerful and heavily subsidized public buses for years. Despite overwhelming odds against him, Hector continues to grow his own business that puts people to work as his vans take people to work, and he offers invaluable guidance, inspiration and mentoring to other fledgling small business owners across the Big Apple.
A model Power of One Entrepreneur released last year featured African hairbraider Melony Armstrong from Tupelo, Miss. Melony joined with IJ to successfully challenge an anti-competitive licensing law in her state and has since gone on to help create at least 300 jobs across the state through her advocacy and education, while also improving the lives of those around her by providing economic opportunity and demonstrating how an entrepreneur can succeed in the face of tremendous odds.
Each of these reports tells the story of one entrepreneur, a story that could be told and retold through the daily lives of countless other entrepreneurs in small towns and big cities nationwide.
IJ Director of Strategic Research Dick Carpenter, Ph.D., who authored the Melony Armstrong report, said, “If the impact of this one entrepreneur in a relatively small Mississippi community can be as wide and deep as documented in this report, imagine the transformation entire communities of unhampered entrepreneurs could create in America’s largest cities where hope and opportunity are in such great demand.”
Institute for Justice President and General Counsel Chip Mellor said, “The power of one entrepreneur is the key to helping our nation recover from this economic slump. It is a key to restoring our inner cities and countless lives through honest enterprise. IJ will use each of these reports to better motivate lawmakers, rally the public and educate the media about the negative consequences of more and more red tape imposed upon small-business owners.”
How can we create long-term, dynamic growth? That power lies where it always has in America: in the power of one entrepreneur.
John E. Kramer is the Institute’s vice president for communications.