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Tom Smart, Tom Smart, Deseret News
Matthew S. Holland

SALT LAKE CITY — Three Utah leaders were recognized Wednesday night for their contributions to minority entrepreneurs.

Former Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, a resident scholar at the Hinckley Institute of Politics; Dr. Matthew Holland, president of Utah Valley University; and Spencer P. Eccles, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, were recognized during a special dinner.

“Our students and entrepreneurs are courageous and fearless in taking the risks and responsibilities of business ownership,” said Rod Castillo, executive director of the Pete Suazo Business Center. “We are grateful to all those who support them, especially to our sponsors and to this year’s awardees.”

Bennett, in particular, was recognized for his tireless efforts in helping the center obtain a federal grant of $500,000 to help build the center, which opened in 2005. Castillo said Bennett played a critical role.

Holland has promoted a steadfast connection between the center and Utah Valley University, helping to instill the value of higher education among center patrons looking to better their lives, according to Castillo.

"UVU has played a large role in outreach to the community. Many people at first are intimidated by taking classes, but eventually find out they hunger more, Castillo added.

"They ask what is next."

Holland, he said, helped the center establish a UVU-certified class.

Eccles was singled out for his work in facilitating a strong partnership between the center and the Governor's Office of Economic Development. Castillo said Eccles has brought his business expertise to bear on the center's efforts to develop strong grounding in the arena of exports.

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"During tough economic times, entrepreneurs are job creators. Minority entrepreneurs often hire employees from within their communities, often improving the conditions of some of the most disadvantaged in the state," Castillo said.

The Pete Suazo Business Center was founded in 2002. Its goal is to help minority and underserved entrepreneurs become successful business owners in their communities.

Suazo served in the Utah House and Utah Senate until his death in an all-terrain vehicle accident in 2001. He represented some of Salt Lake City's west-side neighborhoods.