Economic Liberty Study Release: 10-14-2009

New Study Documents Power of One Entrepreneur

One Mississippi Hairbraider Helped Create Hundreds of Jobs; What If Entrepreneurs Nationwide Were Free To Do The Same?



WEB RELEASE: October 14, 2009
Media Contact:
John Kramer (703) 682-9320

[Economic Liberty] 


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Arlington, Va.—America can avoid a “jobless recovery” if government simply gets out of the way.

That is among the messages conveyed in a new report released today by the Institute for Justice, “The Power of One Entrepreneur:  Melony Armstrong, African Hairbraider,” available at www.ij.org/Power.  The report documents how one single hairbraider from Tupelo, Miss., not only transformed her industry and helped create at least 300 jobs across the state, but also transformed the lives of those around her by providing economic opportunity and demonstrating how an entrepreneur can succeed in the face of tremendous odds.

“Although this report tells the story of one entrepreneur—Melony Armstrong—it is a story that can be told and retold through countless other entrepreneurs like her in small towns and big cities nationwide,” said IJ Director of Strategic Research Dick Carpenter, Ph.D., the report’s co-author.  “If the impact of this one entrepreneur in a relatively small Mississippi community can be as wide, broad and deep as documented in this report, imagine the impact entire communities of unhampered entrepreneurs could create in America’s largest cities where hope and opportunity are in such great demand.”

The Melony Armstrong report is the first in a series of entrepreneurial profiles that the Institute for Justice is creating under the title, “The Power of One Entrepreneur.”  Other entrepreneurs to be featured in reports released early next year will be in different industries and in different regions across the nation.

Each day, Melony Armstrong demonstrates the power of one entrepreneur.  A petite, 40-year-old African-American mother of four who owns Naturally Speaking, a hairbraiding salon in Tupelo, Miss., Melony has grown into an inspiring economic force bringing needed hope and opportunity to her community and her state. 

But first—like too many entrepreneurs nationwide—Melony had to overcome regulatory barriers that kept her from pursuing her occupation, employing others and teaching her craft, and mentoring other young aspiring entrepreneurs.  These regulations, seen in industries as diverse as taxicabs and funeral services, are typically supported or even enforced by industry insiders on state regulatory boards and do little more than keep out competition and suppress consumer choice.

To open her doors as a hairbraider, Mississippi law required Melony to spend 300 hours in cosmetology classes, none of which covered hairbrading, to earn a “wigology” license.  Then to teach others how to braid hair, Mississippi required Melony to spend another 3,200 hours in classes (again, with no instruction in hairbraiding) to obtain a cosmetology license and a cosmetology instructor’s license—hours she could use more productively running her business, teaching others about braiding, volunteering in her community or nurturing her family. 

Melony joined with the Institute for Justice in August 2004 to challenge these onerous government regulations.  Weekly, she travelled seven hours round-trip to the state capitol to convince legislators to do away with Mississippi’s senseless regulation of hairbrading.  In April 2005, Mississippi’s governor signed a new law that did just that, requiring only basic health-and-safety regulations for braiders.

Since the restrictions were lifted, more than 300 individuals have registered hairbraiding businesses in Mississippi, taking once-underground businesses “legit” (moving businesses from the informal economy into the formal economy) and opening new enterprises in places where customer demand was once unmet.  And because of the change in Mississippi’s laws, aspiring braiders are moving there from neighboring states.

“The results of the lawsuit have given an opportunity to people who had the talent to braid but couldn’t and were on public assistance,” said Chervy Lesure, a hairbraider who trained under Melony and worked in her salon before opening her own salon with her sister.

The regulatory change has also freed Melony to hire other stylists to work in her busy salon, thus unleashing her entrepreneurial potential and her economic and social impact on the broader community.  She has taught more than 125 individuals how to braid and employed 25 women in her salon.  For many, this job represents their first steady paycheck and a way to support themselves and their families. 

Melony teaches her employees more than just braiding—she teaches them how to be an entrepreneur, how to create value for others and how to be independent.  Indeed, a dozen of the women she has trained have gone on to start their own salons, providing more jobs for their communities.  In this way, Melony has had an economic impact far beyond Tupelo and her own salon.

“Small-business entrepreneurs like Melony and those she has trained and inspired represent the backbone of the American economy,” said IJ Research Associate John Ross, the report’s co-author.  “More than 73 percent of businesses employ fewer than 10 people, and in Melony’s community of Tupelo it is more than 65 percent. Melony’s is one such business that, while small, has a big impact on the community.”

Institute for Justice President and General Counsel Chip Mellor said, “Individuals like Melony offer a key part of the answer to the questions, ‘How can America recover from its current economic downturn?  How can we create long-term, sustainable growth?’  That power lies where it always has in America:  Not in needless government red-tape, but in the power of one entrepreneur.”


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