Los Angeles managed to win back the Grammy Awards from New York, and now it has a chance to recoup a key convention it lost two years ago.

The city is one of two finalists to host the country's largest Latino business convention in 2002. The other contender is Las Vegas.

Every fall, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents 250 Latino chambers and is based in Washington, D.C., holds a four-day national convention and business expo. Two years ago, Los Angeles bid to host the 2002 convention but lost to Honolulu after the 24-member Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board was flown to Hawaii to visit the site.

But last week, at the chamber's annual legislative meeting in Washington, it was announced that the Hawaii Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was bowing out.

Now the chamber is asking Los Angeles and Las Vegas to submit bids within three weeks. "It's a coup if we can get it," said Hector Barreto, president of Telacu-Barreto Financial Services Inc. and a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board member. "I'm going to be the head cheerleader."

Barreto, who last year was chairman of the Latin Business Association in Los Angeles, will be working with the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau to attract the convention to the city. He said he has the support of various Latino businesses as well as major Latino politicians such as California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante; Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, D-Los Angeles; and state Sen. Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles.

The Latin Business Association, the Latino chamber of commerce in Los Angeles, has 2,000 members and will be supporting the bid to win over Las Vegas, which also has a growing Latino population.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention, last held in Los Angeles in 1987, typically draws hundreds of companies, thousands of participants and generates millions of dollars in revenues for the host city. Representatives and CEOs of various Fortune 500 companies are invited to speak and meet with members. Conventioneers bid to become their suppliers and vendors.

Last year, 10,000 people attended the convention in San Diego, according to George Herrera, president of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber. It generated $3 million for the city, convention officials said. Vice President Al Gore attended and Bustamante gave the keynote speech.

Southern California would be the logical choice for the convention, local officials said, because of the large number of Latino businesses located here. There are an estimated 600,000 Latino-owned businesses in California. Two-thirds of those businesses are located in Southern California and produce $47 billion in goods and services a year.

As officials with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce consider the two remaining options for their convention, they are also preparing to launch the first venture capital fund in the country aimed at Latino businesses.

The fund has a $5 million commitment from Bank One Corp. of Chicago, which also has pledged to raise $5 million from other investors. The goal is to have $75 million in the fund by the end of the year. Other banks are expected to participate in the fund because they will receive credit for complying with the Community Reinvestment Act.

The purpose of the fund is to boost Latino businesses that are having difficulty finding loans. Statistics show that from 1992 to 1997, Latino businesses grew by 82 percent, but most were financed by personal savings or bank loans.

The fund will seek to invest in companies with annual revenues of $4 million or more in the areas of manufacturing, technology and telecommunications.

"We should be operating in 10 months," said Elizabeth Lisboa-Farrow, a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce board member. "We are going to be looking at everything from startups to mid-sized companies."

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