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For members of Utah's Vietnamese community, Tom Huynh's election to the West Valley City Council last year was a turning point.

For decades, they'd been running businesses, sending their children to school, making sacrifices to support their families, helping out their neighbors and assimilating into American life while still preserving their culture.

And in the past few years, they were talking about the need for a business organization. On May 12, community members and their supporters gathered at the New East Sea Plaza in West Valley City to launch the Utah Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce (UVACC).

The timing was historic, just a few months after Huynh, a native of Vietnam and the first minority member of the West Valley City Council, began his term.

"We are very encouraged by what Tom has accomplished. It is a sign to us in our community that we move forward to building a chamber of commerce," said Steven Ha, the chamber's first vice chairman.

UVACC will provide resources, networking opportunities, leadership and mentoring to enable its members to "not just get by, but to really live the American dream," said Ha, a vice president and Asian market manager at Zions Bank.

He said the group also will work with other chambers and organizations to boost the entire business community.

Huynh pointed out that many Vietnamese businesses are mom-and-pop type of enterprises and that a chamber can help them develop a strategy to grow.

"We need to assist people in our community as they assimilate," Huynh said. "We would love for our people to go into mass production, to own a chain of restaurants."

Vivi Tran, a real-estate agent and the chamber's second vice chair, said UVACC also will sponsor community service projects.

"It's not about making a lot of money," she said. "It's about giving back."

Building membership is UVACC's priority in its first year, and all businesses and individuals are welcome to join, Tran said. "We appreciate different backgrounds and experience," she said.

Preston Cochrane, who served a Vietnamese-speaking mission in the Washington, D.C., area, is proof of that. The president and CEO of Fair Credit in Salt Lake City is a UVACC member.

"I think there's a big need for it," Cochrane said of the chamber. "It's such an under-represented group with a lot of potential. There's strength in numbers."

A chamber can spotlight issues and come up with solutions, help a group speak with one voice and identify needs such as training and marketing, said Cochrane, who also is a member of the Salt Lake Chamber and serves on the leadership board of Somos, the nonprofit arm of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Natalie Gochnour, executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber, said ethnic or specialty chambers can finetune their services and focus on particular issues, as well as help broad economic efforts.

Cal Nez, president of the Native American Chamber, said such organizations help ethnic groups focus on the business aspects in their societies and have a voice. Unity can make the chambers even stronger advocates, he added.

"In order to make a greater impact, the ethnic chambers, the minority chambers, need to work together," Nez said.

Hoa Vo, UVACC president and publisher of a Vietnamese-language newspaper, said the 2010 census showed about 8,000 Vietnamese in Utah, but he thinks many were not counted because they didn't understand the form. He places the number at more than 10,000 and growing. Vo said the chamber will have to overcome a reluctance by some Vietnamese to participate in the group, stemming from bad experiences with the government in their home country. He's optimistic, though.

"We are excited to have UVACC in our community," he said.

West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder, who attended the May kick-off event, said UVACC is off to a strong start.

"We find that when business associations come together they do build more awareness for their member businesses," Winder said. "With so many entrepreneurial Asian businesses in our community, this chamber will be a terrific support network for them." —

Taking care of business

Utah has approximately 60 chambers of commerce that fall into four general categories: a capital city statewide chamber, regional chambers, community chambers and ethnic/specialty chambers. There are about 10 ethnic/specialty chambers that serve an ethnically defined population or focus on international trade.

The Utah Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce was launched in May. Its officers are Tom Huynh, executive board chairman; Steven Ha, first vice chair; Vivi Tran, second vice chair; Hoa Vo, president; and Victoria Dang, treasurer. Contact Tran at 801-674-8138 or to join the chamber.

Sources • Utah State Chamber of Commerce and Utah Vietnamese American Chamber of Commerce.