Gloria Freeman became an entrepreneur when she was laid off from her job as an insurance underwriter in 1999.

She followed her heart, drew on her personal experience as caregiver and borrowed and worked 16-hour days.

Today she owns Olu’s Home, which is a set of area group homes that employ about 100, serving people with developmental disabilities, brain injuries and mental illness. A couple of years ago, Freeman and her lenders invested $1.2 million to acquire and renovate an abandoned north side Minneapolis building. It’s Olu’s Center, a vibrant child care center that eventually also will serve as a day center for the elderly.

Freeman was one of several grass roots entrepreneurs (no venture capital or affluent angel investors) who told of their challenges and tribulations as part of a recent panel discussion that I was pleased to moderate at the Entrepreneur Expo at the Minneapolis Central Library.

“You have to have a vision,” Freeman said.

Then comes the planning, raising money, sleepless nights and endless days.

LaMont Bowens was a carpenter who earned a degree in construction management at night, put out his own sign a few years ago and has several employees. Last year his Bowens Cos. topped $1 million in revenue.

“I’ve realized that I could make a living as a subcontractor” instead of working for subcontractors, he said.

Vicie Williams is a once-homeless woman and several-year business owner who received coaching and financial support from Neighborhood Development Center and whose Sister Chris’s natural fruit-flavored barbecue and pasta sauces have proved a winner in local grocery shelves.

Candida Gonzalez, an educator, and Greta McLain, an artist, have been friends since middle school and are the owners of GoodSpace Murals, a company that brightens walls of area businesses, colleges and public places.

Entrepreneurs with little capital sometimes beat the odds, even if for a few years, to produce, employ, care for people, restore buildings and create art that enlightens.

Hidden stadium subsidies

Ted Gayer, an economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., is a Nationals baseball fan.

But that didn’t keep him and colleagues from finding in a recent Brookings study that federal taxpayers subsidized construction of sports stadiums built largely to attract or retain privately owned ballclubs to the tune of $3.7 billion since 2000. That includes a $79 million so far for the new home of the Minnesota Twins and $32 million for the new Vikings stadium.

Usually pro sports critics focus on the hundreds of millions paid by local taxpayers to finance stadiums.

Gayer, director of economic studies at Brookings, said this is the first study that demonstrates how federal taxpayers subsidize these stadiums through the use of tax-exempt municipal bonds, which are supposed to only be used for projects with public benefits, such as transportation and sewer-and-water projects. Gayer, in a recent interview, called it a perversion of the 1986 Tax Reform Act.

“Even if one believes, contrary to the empirical evidence, that the spillover benefits to the local economy justify taxpayer support … there remains no economic justification for federal subsidies,” the study summarizes. “Residents of say, Wyoming, Maine or Alaska, gain nothing from the Washington-area football team’s decision to locate in Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia.

Building new stadiums benefits the owners because it hikes the value of the team through more revenue.

 

Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.com.