When Rod Castillo first volunteered to teach classes at the Pete Suazo Business Center, his intent was to help members of the Latino community, not make them cry. But it was when he saw tears on the faces of his students that he knew he was in the right place.
“At the end of the class, grown men and women asked me, ‘Where’s the catch? Nothing is for free. Why are you helping us?’” he recalls. “[Then] a couple of them started crying. I thought, ‘Wow this is important for people.’ It touched my heart because I have had my own business and had to learn the hard way. I was hooked.” As a professional in the semi-conductor industry, Castillo planned on volunteering for just one year. Now in his third year, he is the development director for the center, which is named after the late state Senator Pete Suazo, who championed the cause of Utah’s Latino/Hispanic population.
The Pete Suazo Business Center, along with the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and The Latin Connections Network are just a few of the organizations that offer business resources to members of the Latino community in Utah. With an ever-increasing Latino population in the state, and with recent statistics showing a three-fold increase in Hispanic-owned businesses in Utah, the need for information offered by organizations such as these is on the rise as well.
By the Numbers
Like many of their American neighbors and friends, Hispanics who come to the United States and to Utah want to be successful in their business endeavors.
“Hispanics are traditionally hard [working] and dedicated workers, and like any American, their dream is to one day own their own business,” says Patricia Dark, executive director of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “The growing Utah economy offers an opportunity for those that are most dedicated to flourish.” According to the Selig Center, she explains, the buying power of Utah’s Hispanics is currently more than $5 billion, and predicted to climb to $6.5 billion by 2010.
“That ensures that the Hispanic community supports Hispanic businesses,” she says.
When it comes to statistics, which point to the ever-growing number of Hispanics in the Utah business world, Castillo need look only at the number of people the Pete Suazo Business Center has been able to help.
As of November 2007, the center was able to assist 581 existing Hispanic/Latino companies, and saw an increase of 68 additional companies with a net job creation of 159 positions. In addition, the center logged more than 1,200 one-on-one counseling hours and 77 seminars with nearly 1,500 people in attendance. In increasing numbers, those being serviced by the center are from low to moderate-income families, something Castillo sees as tremendous progress.
“To me, the mid and upper levels, they have already well-rounded knowledge to get help from other places,” says Castillo, who adds that individuals of all income levels and experience are welcome at the center. But, he says, “It is a vicious circle [for lower income business owners.]”
Through courses offered at the Pete Suazo Business Center, individuals as well as their families receive help and education needed to solve their own problems, which in turn creates confidence to take them forward with their business.
“One thing we do to help them acquire those skills is we say, ‘No, we won’t do that for you, but we will help you write your own business plan.’ We are in business to help the community. We cannot help a business and not help the family. They are connected, one-to-one,” Castillo says.
Servicing the Need
When Hispanic/Latino individuals interested in opening a business arrive in Utah, many come with a wealth
of experience from owning and operating a business in their native countries. Yet, even when the language is not a significant barrier, as it is for many people, understanding the laws and rules regulating business in the United States can be daunting. Yngrid and Rosbitt Gonzalez, owners of American Granite Kitchens, came to America with a business background, yet found they lacked sufficient knowledge to
make their business succeed in the States.
“Our business was growing faster than we expected,” says Yngrid Gonzalez. “We were running like crazy and needed help.” That’s when they turned to the Pete Suazo Center.
The first course they took was the FastTrac workshop which gave them an overview of how to do business in the United States and in Utah. They followed up that class with a QuickBooks course which further helped them in the day-to-day accounting needs of their business.
“I think anyone who is planning on doing a business [should take these classes],” Yngrid Gonzalez says.
Jaime Kennion, of JK Impressions agrees. “When I first started, I didn’t know how to start my own business. [There I learned] everything I needed to learn. If somebody needs help, it’s the best place to start.”
The Pete Suazo Center also provides courses, seminars and workshops in business law, finances, accounting, taxes, marketing, management and financial literacy. It has consultants on hand to help individuals write a business plan, do market research, prepare budgets, apply for loans at banks and other financial institutions and decide which financial institution to go to for funding.
The aim of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is “to provide leadership, economic growth, professional development and political awareness” through and to its members, according to the Chamber’s mission statement.
“One of the most valuable assets [and benefits] the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has established are networking platforms where businesses owners, organizations and professionals exchange knowledge, information, and resources creating strategic business opportunities,” says Patricia Dark. One of the most recent programs offered at the chamber to its members as well as the Latino business community-at-large is called “Acceso,” which translated, means, “access or entry.”
“Acceso is an open forum with a small group of business experts sharing their knowledge, experience and expertise with entrepreneurs and up-and-coming novice business owners,” Dark explains. The monthly program gives small business owners the chance to meet with local experts in an open and candid environment and to ask important questions such as: “What’s the difference between a corporation and an LLC? What are some challenges during your first years in business? How can I better position myself as a small business owner?”
“The primary goal of Acceso is to help Hispanic business owners maximize their time, their money and their organizations to better position themselves in the world of business,” Dark says.
Cultural differences also play a role in doing business. These differences naturally relate to diverse music, food, dress and customs, but it also involves business practices, and myriad rules and regulations which can be confusing and frustrating to those coming to America and wanting to open up a business.
“[Hispanics/Latinos] do have a different approach to business. They need to understand the U.S. way of doing business,” says Castillo. “They are aware of doing business and are eager to learn. They come with very open minds and open hearts to truly understand how to do it. They want to be compliant with all the laws and the rules because they want to be successful.”
Identifying & Closing the Gap
For all Utah businesses to flourish in today’s market, this understanding of different cultures and practices needs to flow in both directions. American business owners must educate themselves on how best to approach business opportunities with Hispanic/Latino customers and companies. To help bridge what is often a significant gap, the Latin Connections Network offers networking opportunities between Hispanic business owners and the Utah business world at large. Two such workshops offered by the group, “The Future of Corporate America: Diversity in the Work Place” and “Understanding of the Hispanic Market,” help bring together different cultures in an effort to benefit all.
Founder and CEO Sonia Thomas feels that talking about how to succeed in business in the United States isn’t enough; you need to get out there and make those connections happen.
“I care about business. I want to develop businesses,” Thomas says. “We are all different. Accepting those differences will help you succeed in your business.” Connections are made through small group settings where people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and professions come together to share friendship and information. While most companies involved in Latin Connections workshops and meetings are from for-profit organizations, everyone is welcome. When the non-profit Utah Foster Care Foundation joined the network, for example, some questions arose as to why this group should be included.
“[Organizations such as these] do a lot of things we don’t know about,” says Thomas. “They share information, exchange information; we help each other. I see myself as the one who sets up the stage and they are the actors. You never know [what will happen]. You can’t close your mind. This is building relationships.”
The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has compiled financial figures that indicate a wider market is available with better communication between American and Hispanic/Latino businesses: In 2006 alone, the average Hispanic in Utah spent more than $1,300 domestically per month. This amounts to a $5.2 billion contribution per year from Utah’s Hispanic population to the state’s economy, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
“Even though the number may be surprising, what is more surprising is that American business owners are not doing enough to reach Hispanics,” says Dark. “According to TNS Media Intelligence, only 5 percent of U.S. companies market to Hispanics. In order for companies to compete, they need to understand that servicing the needs of the Hispanic/Latino community goes far beyond being able to speak the same language.
“There is a cultural component that many companies are lacking,” she adds. “It is great that you can speak the language, but if you don’t have a cultural understanding you will be missing out on truly reaching the Hispanic
In the end, the real success of every class, workshop and seminar is in the lives of the people who benefit from them.
“Mentoring to me has become very important to be successful in business,” says Castillo of the Pete Suazo Business Center. “We always talk about helping our community, helping people in need. Whether it is to help someone in need, or to contribute to an organization, you promote the spirit of contribution. I’ve become a believer in that, how the economy really works. I believe in that; I have seen it.
“Every day [when] we close shop, we are happy that we have contributed to [other peoples’] lives,” he continues. “The human part should not be left behind.”
In her networking efforts, Sonia Thomas frequently meets people bent on looking for reasons to fail, whether from a lack of money, or inability to speak English.
To them, she says quite plainly, “Stop crying. What are you going to do? Why are you here? What are you willing to give? How do you see yourself helping in the group?’ It’s not what I can get; it’s what I can give,” she tells them. “That’s the healthy way to do business.”