During the early days of church history the Church itself owned and operated many businesses to help the Church grow.
A few smaller businesses were formed in Nauvoo. Those were dismantled when members left in 1846. When the Church first relocated to Utah, it established many of the day to day businesses as well. Some of these included the ZCMI (Zion's Cooperative Mercantile) department store, whose facade will remain as part of the City Creek Center although it will be removed during the construction. The very first business established was the Deseret News, founded in 1853 and still in existence today. Other businesses were formed as well that have long since been discontinued, including the processing of sugar beets. Other businesses were started much later such as Beneficial Life, Bonneville International, and others.
As the Church grew, many of these businesses became no longer necessary because other private ventures came in to fulfill the needs of the Utah area, particularly when Utah became a state. Other church owned businesses were rendered obsolete by the changing times, such as those that made wagon wheels or other implements no longer in regular use.
However, the Church has kept some businesses. The Deseret News and KSL radio and TV have been maintained through Bonneville International, because of the importance of communications for the Church. Bonneville has become a respected national owner of radio stations.
As an outgrowth, the Church still invests in some real estate and commercial ranches as well. These are not welfare ranches but profit-making ranches. Some are in Florida, Hawaii, and Arizona. President Hinckley several times has said they are not tax-exempt, so they pay taxes on their profits and property owned by them as any other business is required to under the laws of the land. The Church also has holdings and investments in some airlines and railroads as well as mining companies.
Some businesses are maintained which help to fulfill some ecclesiastical needs, such as the broadcast of General Conference or as KSL is considered, to be a voice in the media for the Church.
There are a few nonprofit ventures, such as Deseret Industries, for the welfare program. President Hinckley has said, however, that the Church would only last a few months on the income of the commercial ventures alone, but gets most of its income from member tithes and offerings.
The Church also encourages members to be entrepreneurs. Frank Vandersloot, head of Melaleuca; Don Aslett, head of Don Aslett's Cleaning Center; J Willard Marriott, head of Marriott Hotel chain; Jon Huntsman, chemical engineer; Larry Miller, Jazz owner and businessman; Mac Christensen, retired clothier; and Jesse Knight Miner are among many successful LDS businessmen. They are a credit to the church as well.
While not owning as many businesses now as in the past, the Church continues to invest in businesses from time to time as it feels they might be able further its mission.