Suazo Business Center executive director Silvia Castro, left, and center founder Gladys Gonzalez. Through their work with the Suazo Business Center, the two women have helped approximately 5,000 small businesses in Utah. (Courtesy of Silvia Castro and Gladys Gonzalez)
Estimated reading time: 8-9 minutes
WEST VALLEY — The Suazo Business Center has launched about 5,000 Utah small businesses over the past two decades, about 93 percent of which are minority-owned.
Two women are behind this success: the center’s founder, Gladys Gonzalez, and its current director, Silvia Castro.
The women, both immigrants from South America, know firsthand the challenges first-generation immigrants face when it comes to “succeeding” in the United States. They have used these experiences to provide multilingual and culturally relevant business advice to entrepreneurs across the state. .
“The whole concept of I want people who look like me, talk like me, and understand me to help me out,” Castro said. “One of the amazing things about the work we do at Suazo is that we can change not only that person’s life, but the life of their family…we can actually change the economic trajectory of an entire family. .”
Facilitate the path of others
Gonzalez was well into an established career when domestic terrorism forced her to immigrate to Utah from Bogota, Colombia in 1991.
Drug traffickers angered by extradition of Colombian suspect to US and US pledge to send aid to help Colombian government fight drug cartels intensified a campaign of terror. Gonzalez said the traffickers threatened that for every drug trafficker extradited to the United States, seven Americans or people who worked for them would be killed.
As an executive at a US bank, Gonzalez felt like he had a target on his back. The bank chief fled the country almost immediately, while Gonzalez and other staff began working from a secure apartment with motorcade escorts to and from work.
“It was a very scary time for my family, my children, for myself,” she said. “It was a horrible time because bombs were exploding everywhere.”
Her bank offered to move her to Log Angeles, New York or Miami, but Gonzalez didn’t feel safe moving to a big city. Instead, she moved to Utah, which she had previously visited because of her faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She expected to find a job in a bank, but she was turned down several times. His degree, his ability to write, read and speak English, his banking background and his experience as a diplomat meant next to nothing to employers in the United States.
Gonzalez went from working in one of Bogota’s most important buildings, using a personal driver and two cleaners, to three low-paying jobs to get by: security guard, newspaper delivery and office cleaning.
“For me, cleaning the floors of banks and all of that has been a school of learning because I learned to appreciate how hard people have to fight when they arrive as immigrants,” he said. she declared. “I had to start from scratch to earn a living in the United States”
Despite this obstacle, Gonzalez soon launched Mundo Hispano, which became Utah’s largest Spanish-language newspaper and was eventually acquired by KSL. During the paper’s early years, Gonzalez and her daughter, Sandra Gonzalez, made up the staff. The duo juggled everything from writing and editing to designing and delivering the paper, while continuing to work full time.
At one point, low on cash, Gonzalez thought she should close the paper. She went to Senator Pete Suazo to tell him the news. The senator was adamant that Gonzalez could not shut down what he told him was the voice of the Hispanic community.
Suazo helped Gonzalez secure a $10,000 microenterprise loan, enough to run the newspaper. In 2009, the newspaper’s readership grew to around 35,000 and it had seven freelance editors, as well as a correspondent in Mexico City and another in Colombia.
“It’s not in circulation today, but it’s what allowed me to live the American dream,” said Gonzalez, who has also owned several businesses, including an advertising agency and a flipping firm. Of house. “The newspaper didn’t give me any money because all my money was already invested, but it gave me visibility and helped me achieve other goals that I had.”
One of those goals was to open a business center that could help individuals the same way Suazo helped her. In 2001, after Suazo died in an ATV accident, Gonzalez founded the Suazo Business Center. His vision for the center was to “bring together all the things we need to learn from American culture and the good things we have to offer the American community”.
“We Latinos have an entrepreneurial spirit; it comes naturally to us,” she said. “My advice would be not to believe that you are inferior to anyone else. You can go as high as you want. You can achieve your dreams as long as you believe in them and take action.”
Building on success
While Gonzalez was building a newspaper, Castro was going through the American school system
Her family moved from Ecuador to Utah in the early 90s, when she was 14, in an effort to ensure that she and her sisters had a better education and, eventually, better opportunities. to be financially secure adults.
Adjusting to “a whole new whole” hasn’t been easy. Castro’s saving grace was that she and her two sisters were thrown into college life together. They took the most advanced Spanish course offered by their school – a small break each day from what Castro called a completely alien education system.
“I quickly realized it was kind of self-motivated,” she said. “It was very fascinating to start. And that’s what I understood, that there are a lot of systems here in this country that are autonomous. … So that was one of my first lessons to move here and be a teenager.”
This lesson would serve her well as she navigated school and eventually her career. From a young age, Castro knew she wanted to be in business. She made sure to take college-level economics and finance classes in high school and participated in the business and finance clubs Kearns High School had to offer. When she started at Westminster College, Castro said she was eager to graduate and start her career. She earned a degree in international business in three years despite working full time.
“I was a woman on a mission,” she said. “But looking back, I wish someone had told me to enjoy it a bit more and get to know my peers a bit better – because sometimes education isn’t just about papers or school attendance; it’s about the people who are literally sitting next to you Let’s be honest, the people who are sitting next to you will probably have a say in where your jobs will be for the next few decades, because everything revolves around networks.
It’s one of the things that, as the first in her family to attend an American university, Castro said she just didn’t know.
His first job out of college was as an international trade specialist with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. In this position, she helped small businesses learn how to import and export products. The love she developed for small business during that first job remained, even as Castro’s career spanned government positions, including director of Hispanic Latin American affairs for two governors of the United States. Utah, nonprofits like the Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business program, and working with executives and business owners from Fortune 500 companies.
Castro was working for the Salt Lake City Department of Economic Development when the director position opened up at the Suazo Business Center. She said something inside her told her she had to go get the job.
“I loved what (Gonzalez) was trying to create with that cross,” Castro said. “I just felt they had done this incredible job, but at the same time they could do more.”
She had two initial goals: to create an agenda for women to address the unique challenges they face and to push businesses to grow in traditional markets.
“As long as our customers only saw Latinos as their customers, they would always stay small,” she said.
In his five years with the center, however, Castro achieved those goals and more. The center opened a second site in Ogden, more than tripled its staff, quintupled its budget and significantly increased its reserves.
She said the hardest thing she had to overcome to get to where she is today is low expectations – something she said is “just part of the experience of minority”.
“As a Latina, I’ll have to work three times as hard to get equal recognition. Yet there’s always that low expectation,” she said. “There’s always those low expectations when people are incredibly capable. If you just give them a chance, they’ll surprise you. But those low expectations are always there. And frankly, I think that’s why we’re so successful , because at Suazo , there is no place for low expectations.”
To be involved
The Suazo Business Center offers basic, intermediate and advanced courses for entrepreneurs as well as counseling appointments in several languages. The center also offers assistance in applying for small business loans as well as in-house micro loans for those not eligible for traditional financing.
For more information about the center, visit suazocenter.org.