Utah's Hispanic businesses deserve to be recognized, locally and nationally, said Sam Guevara, president-elect of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

One of the first steps was the formation of the local Hispanic Chamber in 1991. Another will take place this week, Guevara said, when the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce arrives in Salt Lake City.

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber chose Salt Lake for its 2004 retreat and board meeting, scheduled for Thursday through Saturday, after Guevara approached them with the idea at a convention last September.

"The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce targeted Salt Lake City because of its burgeoning Latino community," Ramon Rodriguez, chief operating officer of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber, said in a prepared statement. "Some estimate that 19 percent of the city's population is Hispanic, and Utah was one of only 18 states to see Latino growth rates above 50 percent.

"And fortunately, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a member affiliate, will be hosting the USHCC for this upcoming retreat. This chamber is the leading advocate for Hispanic businesses in that state and has a number of activities planned to acquaint us with the state's many resources and its vibrant economy."

This is only the second time in the U.S. Hispanic Chamber's 25-year history that the board meeting will be held outside of Washington, D.C.

For Guevara and the Utah chamber, it was about recognition and realization.

"We're not just bringing in big people because we want to bring in big people," Guevara said. "We want local officials and local businesses and the community to realize that we're a part of a big, national group. We want them to realize that our economic development is important, and that we do have something to contribute — not only to our own businesses, but to the larger community.

"Hispanic businesses have always been in the background. People think they're always restaurants and import stores. But now, they'll have to realize that Hispanic businesses are lawyers, business consultants, warehouse distribution specialists. We're not the stereotypes we have been. We're active, successful and professional."

And growing. According to the most recent Census, Utah's Hispanic population has increased from 84,597 in 1990 to more than 200,000. In addition, Guevara said, three out of every five Hispanics in the United States were born in this country.

"Everybody thinks they're all just immigrants, people coming across the border," Guevara said. "But in reality, when people talk about the growing Hispanic community, they're talking about third- and fourth-generation people. Even if the immigration rate was to double, they could still not keep up with how many children are being born here, as Americans.

"It's really amazing. We're almost up there with the Mormons in how many kids we have. We understand that love for family."

The three-day event will include presentations from Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman and the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as a tour of Salt Lake's night life with Mayor Rocky Anderson.

Other activities include a Utah Jazz basketball game, a tour of Temple Square with representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a Utah Opera presentation of "Hansel & Gretel."

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com