WEST VALLEY CITY — Sitting in a conference room with about 150 other women, Park City restaurateur Blanca Gohary took notes while listening intently to speakers discussing the importance of making personal connections in the local business community.

Gohary was among the scores of women attending the Latina Style Inc. Business Series on Thursday at the Maverik Center.

The one-day development conference seeks to empower Latina professionals and business owners by bringing them together with key corporations and educational leaders that provide information most needed by today’s entrepreneurs, explained Robert Bard, Latina Style's president and CEO.

Launched in 1998, the series seeks to provide meaningful interaction between the participants and sponsors, Bard added. More than 30,000 Latina entrepreneurs in 107 cities have participated in the program since its inception.

The seminars concentrate on solving some of the most critical business challenges faced by Latina entrepreneurs as they start their business or plan for expansion, he said.

“One of the goals is to introduce (people in) the community to each other,” Bard said.

Besides a restaurant, Gohary and her husband also run a Park City food company. She said the networking opportunities are what attracted her to the event.

“I knew that other prominent Latinos that I haven’t seen for years would be here,” Gohary said. “It’s a great way to reconnect.

“As a business owner, I’m always trying to identify growth opportunities,” she continued. “Being amongst peers and people that are more experienced than me just helps me in my own business.”

Originally founded by Bard's late wife, Anna Maria Arias, Latina Style Magazine is a publication targeting the needs of Latina professionals and business owners. The magazine has a distribution of 150,000, with a readership of 600,000 and a website that receives an average of 200,000 hits per month, according to the company's website.

Bard said the program emphasizes creating a solid business foundation for the Latina entrepreneur.

Corporate sponsors provide expert panelists to speak about a specific category of expertise. The program covers a wide-range of topics, including access to capital; strategic sales and marketing strategies; professional, technology and communications services; and corporate and federal procurement opportunities.

Latina business owners represent nearly 600,000 businesses, generating close to $70 billion in sales and employing more than 500,000 people, while constituting the fastest growing segment of the small-business arena, the website stated.

Paula Brog, owner of Brog Distributors, a Salt Lake City coffee services company, said the program offers her the chance to learn new strategies on coping with challenges from savvy business professionals who have experience as entrepreneurs themselves.

“I want to have a little knowledge of what to expect and what to do,” she said. “So that if heaven forbid something comes up, you can be prepared for it.”

Gov. Gary Herbert, who spoke at the event, said programs like the Latina Style Business Series can be of great benefit to the Utah economy.

“It is the forerunner of increased economic expansion, which is very good news for the people of Utah generally and for the Latino community specifically,” Herbert said.

Bard said the most important priority of the program is to empower the local Latino community, particularly women business owners.

“If you empower a woman, you empower a household. If you empower a household, you empower the community,” he said. “If you empower the community, you empower the state. If you empower the state, you empower the nation.”

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