In the past decade, Utah's Hispanic population increased a whopping 40 percent. Hispanics now comprise 5 percent of the state's population.

Professionals, businesses and retailers are beginning to recognize Hispanics not just as a burgeoning minority group but as consumers with special needs.From greeting cards written in Spanish to real estate agents who cater to a largely Hispanic clientele, Utah's business community is slowly reacting to its new ethnic diversity.

Sonia Parker is editor of Utah's only Spanish-language newspaper, America Unida. In less than three years, the publication has grown from a hand-typed publication to a 16-page newspaper complete with local, national and international news of interest to Hispanics.

She credits the newspaper's growth to increases in its advertising revenues. "Advertisers are more interested in the newspaper, and if they speak Spanish, they (Hispanics) will be more comfortable going to their businesses," Parker said.

Olympus Bank, for example, recently started advertising in America Unida. Written in Spanish, its ad encourages readers to contact Dolores Garcia McRae, a bank employee who speaks Spanish and can assist Hispanic customers.

"We're trying in the spirit of the (federal banking) regulation in addition to community obligation trying to encourage more borrowing from that segment of the community. We know they're there and they're probably not as well served in the financial products industry as the rest of the community," said Kathy Hill, senior vice president of Olympus Bank.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also advertises in the newspaper as an attempt to reach moderate to low-income homebuyers. To further assist Hispanics, the agency plans to offer a workshop in Spanish this spring to help explain HUD programs and services.

Buying a home can be a confusing ordeal for those who are familiar with American business customs and home lending practices. But for those whose first language is Spanish, the ordeal can be overwhelming.

There are a number of Hispanic real estate agents in the Salt Lake Valley, but few are fluent in Spanish, said Alfred Torres, realtor associate for ERA Carlson Realtors.

Torres uses his language skills to his advantage, he said. He also runs a business preparing income tax returns for a largely Hispanic clientele.

"It's created quite a good little business. That's because I speak Spanish and I don't take advantage of them. I treat them right," he said.

Many of the new Hispanic immigrants are professionals and have good-paying jobs. "They are very well educated people. They are lawyers, doctors, nurses and teachers," Parker said. "They come here and they find it's a new system. That's why the newspaper helps."

Parker said she believes the newspaper also helps educate the non-Hispanic community about their Hispanic neighbors.

By far, Parker said, the worst misconception about Utah's Hispanic population is "that everybody's Mexican. They see your black hair and they say `Oh, you're Mexican. You like to eat jalapenos.' Utah needs more education about diversity about ethnic groups."

Utah's Hispanic community is as diverse, comprised of Hispanic Americans and immigrants including Mexicans, Peruvians, Chileans, Guatemalans, Argentines, Cubans and others.

Census figures report the state's Hispanic community increased to 84,597 in 1990, up from 60,302 in 1980, but Parker questions whether the head count is accurate.

"They are just counting one or two children for each Hispanic family. There are a lot of children or adults who aren't being counted," she said.

Nine cities have joined a federal lawsuit that calls in question census figures and the techniques used to count the urban poor and minorities.

Fear may be the underlying cause of the undercount, Parker said.

Some Hispanics, particularly new immigrants, fear contact with the government or police. "I had one man tell me `The less people know about me, the less I get into trouble,' " Parker said.

Although the census shows a remarkable increase in the state's Hispanic population, Parker said the numbers belie the vast opportunity to serve a segment of the economy that is hungry for new goods and services.

And she should know. When she learned there wasn't a Spanish-language newspaper when she moved to Utah about three years ago, she and her husband Andrew started one. The paper is now distributed throughout northern Utah.

"There's hope for television in Spanish here, too. We can do it."