Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News</i>
Jose Loayza stands in front of a painting that will be the logo for the new Latin-American business group.

Jose Loayza was tossed into the Utah business scene with limited English and little mastery of the market after moving from Peru in 1989. Now Loayza wants to offer some hand-holding and practical guidance to Latinos facing the same business challenges.

Loayza, who runs a law firm in Taylorsville, is heading up the newly created Latin-American Chamber of Commerce that kicked off Thursday night in Salt Lake City.

"I didn't have much mentoring or resources that I could use," he said. "The Chamber of Commerce could be a clearinghouse for information and a forum for gathering and exchanging information, tips and pointers."

The group aims to set itself apart from the existing Utah Hispanic Chamber by focusing on assimilation of new immigrants from Latin America as they attempt to set up shop within Utah. The Hispanic Chamber, Loayza said, has not focused enough on the business hurdles facing new immigrants.

Although the language barrier is often the greatest obstacle for Latinos, Loayza said an understanding of the U.S. business market is an often underestimated stumbling block.

Much more formal than the Hispanic market, the U.S. system is intimidating to many immigrants, Loayza said. Education and practical guidance could help Latino business owners navigate through that new and complex system.

"It can really stump somebody who is first of all not very fluent and someone who is used to a different way of doing business," he said.

The new chamber also hopes to give Latinos a chance to make connections with other minority business owners, who Loayza said are growing as a valuable resource in Utah and the nation.

Latinos make up about 10 percent of the state's 2.4 million people, according to the U.S. Census. In Salt Lake County, Latinos are about 12 percent of the population.

"Just by the sheer force of numbers, Latinos have gained relevance in the economy," he said. "Just to have somebody to bounce off ideas with, somebody to do joint ventures."

That forum is particularly valuable to Travis Bonino, owner of the Salsa Leedos Mexican Grill in West Jordan. Bonino, a member of the newly formed chamber, is a Utah native who is excited to tap into the Latino culture in the Salt Lake area.

Bonino, who speaks little Spanish, said he hopes the chamber will provide a link between his restaurant and the valley's Latino population that could provide marketing ideas or even help run his business.

"It's going to be kind of a crutch for me," Bonino said. "All my marketing to the Latino market has failed. This is going to open a wide door for me in running my restaurant."

But Joe Reyna, chairman-elect of the board of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said he's not sure what the new group can offer that the existing chamber doesn't already. The Hispanic Chamber has grown to about 230 members since its installation in 1991.

The group, Reyna said, already focuses on helping minority business owners adjust to the Utah business climate. The organization also functions as a matchmaker, he added, connecting small Hispanic businesses with large corporations.

"I think it's going to confuse some people about the role of both chambers. We've been trying to promote Hispanic business for a very long time," he said.

Loayza, however, said Utahns can be part of both groups. The newest Latin-American chamber, he said, may be more beneficial to Latino business owners who want to use the group's connections to South America and Mexico. That international dimension has been missing from the Hispanic Chamber, he added.

"Those are resources that are not being tapped now. They're being wasted," he said. "It's a wealth of information and knowledge that's going to be put to good use."