Twenty years ago this summer, State Senator Pete Suazo, the first Latino to serve on Utah’s Capitol Hill, died in a tragic ATV accident, but his legacy is alive and well at the business center that bears his name in Glendale.
The Suazo Business Center, a non-profit organization founded in 2003, continues Sen. Suazo’s life’s work of empowering everyday Utahns, particularly those he represented from Salt Lake’s West Side neighborhoods, many of whom are people of color. Since its founding, the center has helped more than 8,000 Utahns make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality. Edith Lopez, an immigrant from Mexico and co-owner of Cakes by Edith in Taylorsville, is one.
“I saw an ad at the library on a small sheet of paper. I went to Suazo (Business Center) because I didn’t know where to begin,” said Lopez, speaking to The West View in Spanish. “They were spectacular. They were kind, they never made me feel dumb for asking questions. I would not have been able to start my business without their help. I highly recommend them! They changed our lives.”
Lopez and her husband had experience baking and selling cakes and bread in Mexico and the United States, but they lacked the expertise to start their own business. The center taught them how to create a business plan with state licenses, leasing contracts, and more, helping launch the business in 2007. Shortly thereafter, when the Great Recession began, the Lopezes feared they might lose their nascent enterprise, but the center once again stepped in, helping them navigate that turbulent time.
They went from selling about $80 a day to more than $5,000 a day and are about to open a second bakery in Riverton. Their adult daughters, who have studied business administration and marketing, will help run that new location. The Lopezes’ experience is not unique.
According to Antonella Packard, community outreach senior advisor at the Suazo Business Center, her organization helps would-be business owners determine the viability of a business, adapt the business idea to make it work, name the business, and go through the entire registration process.
“Our commitment is to help underserved communities in our state. We not only help them create businesses, we go through the life cycle of the businesses. We help with growth and when the time comes to prepare for a sale,” Packard said. “We are now seeing the [adult] children, the second generation, coming through our doors. Some of their parents only spoke Spanish and their kids are now English dominant. We provide our services in English and Spanish.”
The center provides several programs for budding entrepreneurs, all of which have continued in a remote fashion during the pandemic. “Our executive director Silvia Castro has been key to help steer the center, to adapt during this pandemic. Our advising is now virtual,” Packard said. “We have also successfully helped our clients weather the storm or create new businesses during COVID.”
Suazo Business Center’s main program is “Inicio,” which means “beginning” in Spanish. It’s a six-month program of rotating classes that culminates in a certificate of achievement and the knowledge and resources to launch a business. There’s also a program called “Crecimiento empresarial,” Spanish for “entrepreneurial growth,” for those who already own businesses and are trying to scale and grow their companies.
The Suazo Business Center’s programs include a series of workshops. Some of their most popular are the “ELLA” (“HER”) workshops, which are geared toward women. Most of these programs are free, while advising sessions cost $20 each. The center also runs a “Digital Navigators'' program to help budding entrepreneurs with their digital literacy, from setting up an email account to much more complex tasks.
The center has also partnered with Comcast to be a hotspot so that Glendale residents can access the internet from the center, regardless of entrepreneurial aspirations, and can also refer residents to a $9.99 monthly Comcast internet plan.
The Suazo Business Center offers the kind of assistance that the late Senator Pete Suazo provided his constituents. In 1997, Senator Suazo helped Gladys Gonzalez, an immigrant from Colombia, start her own business.
“Gladys Gonzalez went from being a bank executive in Colombia to cleaning banks in the U.S. because of the political situation in Colombia,” Packard said. “The late senator Pete Suazo helped her create her business plan and obtain a loan for her first business. That help made a big difference in providing for her children and made her American Dream come true. She became a serial entrepreneur and did extremely well.”
Gladys Gonzalez wished to honor the late Senator Pete Suazo’s memory and pay it forward to the community by founding the Suazo Business Center shortly after his death. The late senator’s widow Alicia Suazo, who finished out his term in the Utah state legislature, is an emeritus board member of the center. With help from late U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, Suazo Business Center was able to have its own brick-and-mortar location in the heart of Glendale.
Suazo was born in Salt Lake City, grew up on the West Side, graduated from West High School and the University of Utah. Maria Garciaz, CEO Neighborworks Salt Lake, first met Suazo when they were students at the University of Utah in the 1970s.
“Even back then, he had this ability to bring the community together to solve issues that impacted everybody. He had a passion for helping people find their voice,” Garciaz said. “Pete’s legacy was really of reaching out to the community, teaching them how to access resources, helping them elevate their life. He did that on the individual level as a mentor and as a legislator listening to and advocating for his constituents.”
Garciaz added that Suazo would be “very proud of the impact the center has made in terms of serving underserved populations that might not traditionally have access to that education, in terms of how to start a business, create a business plan, a marketing plan--he was very much about education.”
The Suazo Business Center is located in Glendale at 960 West 1700 South. You can reach them by phone at 801-521-1709 or by e-mail at . You can also find the Suazo Business Center and many of their virtual workshops on Facebook at www.facebook.com/suazobusinesscenter.