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From left to right: Michael Barriere of Barriere Energy, Marsha Bailey, Guillermo Chavez, Sergio Zepeda, and Leah Gonzales celebrate the opening of Women’s Economic Ventures new Santa Maria office.


The open house for Women’s Economic (WEV) was in full swing on the afternoon of March 18: A handful of balloons, aluminum trays filled with taco fixings, and a small crowd of people helped the nonprofit celebrate the opening of its new Santa Maria office.

The Santa Barbara-based nonprofit offers business training classes, consulting, and small loans (up to $25,000) for women who want to start their own businesses. The loans are offered to recipients who are having trouble securing one through a bank, said WEV Program Manager Leah Gonzales. Between the Santa Barbara and Ventura offices, the nonprofit has given out more than $3.7 million in loans and helped more than 3,000 women since opening in 1991.

Gonzales said WEV is all about empowering women in business.

That’s the goal of founder and CEO Marsha Bailey, who started WEV nearly 25 years ago. She said businesses become more profitable when women are involved.

“Boards of directors with women on them are more profitable,” Bailey said, adding that it’s not just women who make the difference, but diversity in general. “Diversity creates a broader experience, and it provides role models for kids.”

She used an example that draws from opposing sides of the male/female spectrum to illustrate what diversity can do for a company—an automobile company with a board of directors fully comprised of men who want to produce only muscle cars. A board with women, she said, may want to produce other types of cars, such as safer, family-friendly passenger vehicles.

In Santa Maria, WEV is focused on helping women in the Latino community become successful. The nonprofit offers at least two types of business classes: a four-week basic class and a 14-week advanced class. The classes teach essential business practices such as how to develop a business plan and reading a balance sheet.

The instructors are either business owners or managers, and most of them are alumni who graduated from WEV classes, which helps students better relate to the program, Bailey said.

Not all instructors are women. The nonprofit recently hired Guillermo Chavez, who is the new part-time Spanish program coordinator. He will be teaching the 14-week advanced Spanish self-employment training course.

Sergio Zepeda also teaches classes in Spanish. He graduated from WEV years ago and now runs a successful State Farm insurance agency in Santa Maria. The next round of classes begins on April 21.

All of the classes cost money but can be made affordable through grants, Program Manager Gonzales said.

And the classes aren’t just available to women. Gonzales said there is a mixture of men and women (some couples) who attend classes. Gelacio and Aureliano Lopez, both of whom graduated from WEV in 2000, own two taco businesses in North County: Taqueria Guerrero and Tacos El Tizon, respectively, both of which provided tacos for the open house.

Women’s Economic Ventures is located inside MIYB Spaces at 429 E. Main Street in Santa Maria. For more information, call Gonzales at 456-2344.

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