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Church Participation in Business

by Rodney H. Brady

Historically, two purposes have characterized Church participation in business: to provide important services to the community that might not otherwise be available, and to provide a reasonable return on the resources of the Church. During the first half century of settlement in Utah, the Church started or helped to start many businesses. Some continue to operate; but as communities became self-sufficient, the Church withdrew from such business activities as banking, health care, commercial printing, sugar processing, and the Hotel Utah.

Most of the business assets of the Church originated in the pioneer era when its people were isolated from other business and commercial centers. When a newspaper was needed to help keep people of Utah informed, the Church established the Deseret news in 1850. In the 1920s, federal officials urged newspapers to develop broadcast operations. In 1922 the Deseret News did as requested, and that was the beginning of ksl and Bonneville International corporation. To help Utah farmers develop a cash crop that they could sell beyond the borders of the state, the Church helped pioneer the sugar beet industry. ZCMI department stores were the outgrowth of a cooperative movement among the early pioneers. When hotel accommodations were insufficient to provide housing for a growing number of visitors to Temple Square and other points of interest in Salt Lake City shortly after the turn of the century, the Church joined with other community interests to construct Hotel Utah. Over a period of years, the Church bought out other investors to become the sole owner of Hotel Utah. The Church became more involved in Salt Lake City real estate primarily to preserve the beauty and the integrity of the downtown area, especially around Temple Square. That purpose guided Church officials when they decided in the late 1960s to lease to Salt Lake County, for one dollar per year, the property on which Symphony Hall and the Salt Palace Convention Center are now located.

At the beginning of 1990, major commercial businesses owned by the Church included Beneficial Development Company, Beneficial Life Insurance Company, Bonneville International Corporation, Deseret Book Company, Deseret News Publishing Company, Deseret Trust Company, Farm Management Company, Temple Square Hotel Corporation, Utah Home Fire Insurance Company, and Zions Securities Corporation. The Church also owns Laie Resorts, Inc., a small motel, restaurant, and service station located adjacent to the polynesian cultural center in Hawaii. These businesses come under the umbrella of Deseret Management Company, a holding company that receives and distributes profits, performs internal audits, generates consolidated financial statements, files consolidated income tax returns for the group, coordinates activities, and reviews business operations and plans.

THE CHURCH of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints Foundation receives from Church businesses contributions from their pretax earnings, which in turn are given to the community as contributions to the arts, education, and charitable groups, and other beneficiaries. The LDS foundation coordinates the distribution of major portions of the charitable contributions designated by Church-owned businesses. In recent years, the Foundation has been a significant contributor to the new LDS Hospital wing, the new Primary Children's Medical Center, the new Holy Cross Hospital, the Salvation Army, Saint Vincent De Paul Center soup kitchen for the homeless, the Salt Lake City Homeless Shelter, the Utah Symphony, Ballet West, the United Way, and related organizations. Income from Church business operations permits participation in local community causes without using the tithing of members from around the world. Those tithes are dedicated to continuing the primary work of the Church, which includes teaching the gospel to the world, building faith and testimony and promoting activity among the membership, and helping members to complete sacred temple ordinances in proxy for the deceased.

Other business activities are under the aegis of the Investment Properties Division of the Church. For example, it oversees Church-owned farmland in several states and Canada, although many of the agricultural activities on the land are managed by Farm Management Companies.

The Church does not publish financial data regarding its privately owned businesses. However, Church officials have indicated that profits from business operations are used to provide living allowances for the General Authorities of the Church. While business profits are not disclosed, President Gordon B. Hinckley, a member of the First Presidency, said in 1985 that the combined income from all these business interests would not keep the work of the Church going for longer than a very brief period (Hinckley, 1985, p. 50).

In addition to its wholly owned businesses, the Church has controlling interest in the chain of ZCMI department stores. Also, the Church once owned U and I Sugar Company, but many assets of that company have been sold. The company name was changed to U and I, Inc., and, more recently, to AgriNorthwest Company. Its remaining assets are held by Deseret Management Company. The Church also has a significant but noncontrolling interest in Heber J. Grant and Company, a holding company. Other investments include a varied portfolio of stocks and bonds.

Each of the businesses owned by the Church operates in a competitive environment and must succeed or fail according to standard business operating principles. These companies pay taxes to federal, state, and local governments. (The Church is the fourth largest payer of real estate taxes in Salt Lake County.) Church businesses have boards of directors that set policies for the individual companies. In most cases, Church leadership is represented on the boards of directors, but many boards include persons of other faiths.

Operating management is in the hands of professional managers, who need not be Church members. The Church requires them to operate the businesses in harmony with its principles and values of honesty, integrity, sensitivity, and service.

The Church expects its businesses to return something back to the communities from which they derive their revenues, and it encourages managers to participate actively in community activities and in business and professional associations. The Church expects them to set standards of excellence, to be leaders in their particular industries, and always to be conscious of the values of the ownership that they represent.

The major commercial businesses owned by the Church engage in the following activities:

Beneficial Development Company is a property development company dealing primarily with real estate holdings in and around Salt Lake City. In a very few instances, the company has installed roads, water systems, and other amenities for residential developments.

Beneficial Life Insurance Company offers the full range of life insurance protection. The company operates subsidiary insurance companies in Des Moines, Iowa, and Portland, Oregon.

Bonneville International Corporation is a commercial radio and television broadcast company with stations in Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Phoenix, Dallas, Chicago, and New York. A division, Bonneville Communications, provides promotional services, and produces and distributes the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir broadcast, the general conferences of the Church, the Homefront Series public service announcements, items for the Missionary Department, and various seasonal programs. The company also provides commercial advertising and promotional services for national businesses and organizations.

Deseret Book Company operates retail book stores in Utah, Idaho, California, Oregon, and Arizona. The company also serves as a publishing arm of the Church to publish books and other materials for and about the Church. In addition, the company operates the Mormon Handicrafts outlet in Salt Lake City.

Deseret News Publishing Company publishes Salt Lake City's afternoon daily, the Deseret News, and is a partner in the Newspaper Agency Corporation, which handles printing, advertising, and circulation for the two Salt Lake City dailies.

Deseret Trust Company receives and administers trust funds and trust properties given to the Church.

Farm Management Company manages commercial farms and other agricultural properties owned or leased by the Church, including Deseret Ranches of Florida (Orlando), Deseret Land and Livestock (Rich County, Utah), Deseret Farms of California (Sacramento), Rolling Hills (Emmett, Idaho), West Hills Orchards (Elberta, Utah), and Cactus Lane Ranch (Phoenix, Arizona).

Temple Square Hotel Corporation operates The Inn at Temple Square, a small European-style hotel across from Temple Square; and The Lion House, a historic building in downtown Salt Lake City that is used for luncheons, dinners, wedding receptions, and other social events.

Zions Securities Corporation manages properties owned by the Church, primarily in the downtown area of Salt Lake City, including the ZCMI Mall, the Eagle Gate Plaza office tower, the Eagle Gate Apartments, the Gateway Condominiums, several other apartment buildings, and a number of parking facilities.

(See Daily Living home page; Attitudes About Wealth and Business home page)


Hinckley, Gordon B. "Questions and Answers." Ensign 15 (Nov. 1985):49-52.

Hinckley, Gordon B. Untitled address to the Governor's Conference on Utah's Future, Sept. 7, 1988. (Available upon request from the Church's Public Communications Department.)

Lindsey, Robert. "The Mormons—Growth, Prosperity and Controversy." New York Times Magazine, Jan. 12, 1986.

Parrish, Michael. "The Saints Among Us." Rocky Mountain Magazine 2 (Jan.-Feb. 1980):17-32.

Turner, Judd. "The Church in Business." This People 10 (Summer 1989):50-55.

See also the following series of articles on Church and business:

"Arizona Republic Explores LDS Financial Holdings." Deseret News, June 30, 1991, pp. A1, A4.

"LDS Revenues Come Primarily from Tithing." Deseret News, July 1, 1991, pp. A1, A4.

"LDS Church Real Estate Holdings Include Farms, Ranches, Buildings. Deseret News, July 2, 1991, pp. A1, A4, A5.

"LDS Church Uses Media Empire to Set Example in Communities." Deseret News, July 3, 1991, pp. A1, A5.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Business, Church Participation in

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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