Movers & Shakers of the Coastal Bend
By Kylie Cooper
When googling the phrase “mover and shaker” the definition given is someone who is powerful or has influence. The synonyms for the phrase include: mogul, leading light, and a force to be reckoned with. With new businesses popping up everywhere, the revitalization of Downtown charging full-speed ahead, and more people realizing just exactly what it is this city has to offer, the atmosphere is quickly shifting. Leading the way are those who aren’t afraid of change, believe in taking action, and understand this city’s full potential. On all accords, the people we chose to call movers and shakers not only obtain those qualities, they live and breathe by them.
On the two occasions Ben Molina and I were in one another’s presence, positivity oozed out of him. His smile, similar to the likes of a child on Christmas morning, stretches from ear to ear. While at lunch for our interview, more than one person came up to the table to say hello. On location for our photoshoot, at City Hall, he greeted multiple people—asking about their families and how their holiday season was going. You see, kindness and giving back are second nature to Ben.
Originally from Kerrville, Texas, Ben moved to Corpus in the middle of high school. In 2004, he began working with a roofing company that he would later go on to own. Although he has always kept himself quite busy, his colleague pushed him to join a city board in order to get more involved in the community and so his passion for the people expanded. The Zoning Board of Adjustment, Habitat for Humanity, Young Business Professionals, and the West Side Business Association are just a few organizations Ben has found himself being a part of. “I have always wanted to help in any way I can,” Ben says. “So, the motivation behind running for City Council was simply me wanting to help as many people as possible.”
He wanted to help more people, on a bigger scale, and earning a seat as a City Councilmember was the perfect platform to do just that. His innovative, fresh perspective on the city is something he uses to his advantage as he brings new ideas to better our community. “I am always trying to find ways to save the city money, labor, and time,” he says. As most Corpus Christi residents might say, the road repair process in town could use a bit of a facelift and this happens to be one of Ben’s main focuses in the new year. “I came across a machine that really will allow us to save not only money, but time,” he says with optimism. “What else is out there; what else is new and will lower our cost of resources? Those are the questions I try asking.”
Ben believes his ability to listen to others is what allows him to be such a good Councilmember. “My favorite part of this all is being able to listen to an issue or concern and then have the ability to pick up the phone and actually do something about it,” he says.
Aside from official council business, Ben stays busy with his roofing business, his wife, and his children—and balance is key when it comes to juggling it all. His family is his main source of inspiration. Ben speaks about his kids proudly; they are his motivation behind making a difference in our community. “What I want is to leave Corpus better than I found it,” he says. He knows the work done today will affect his kids 10 to 15 years from now. He aims to create a community with ample opportunities for the kids who live here, in order for them to stay and raise their own families here. “I thought to myself one day, ‘what do I want for my children and how do I achieve it?’ and this is the way to do it.”
Corpus Christi Convention Visitors Bureau Director of Special Events and Social Media
If you’ve ever had the privilege of having a conversation with Heidi Hovda (and believe me, it is a privilege), you probably know a couple things about her. She is passionate and hardworking. She is loud, creative, and confident. The way she speaks about Corpus Christi, with wide eyes and a certain sense of wonder, leaves you feeling inspired. She is, an all-encompassing, force to be reckoned with.
Heidi Hovda, the CVB Director of Special Events and Social Media, is no stranger to the Coastal Bend. Her family moved here when she was five years old and she never left. “There was a time, not too long ago, that I wanted to give up and move,” Heidi says. “I called my 24-year-old twin boys and asked them if they could move anywhere else, where it would be.” Their answer was simple: they wanted to stay in Corpus. They believed their place in the world was here and their purpose was to make a difference in this city—something they undoubtedly inherited from their mom.
She reminisces back to her time spent working with the Downtown Management District and believes it was there she realized how easy it was to make a difference in the community. She had ideas and the right combination of passion and drive to see those ideas come to fruition. “City and elected officials are ready and waiting for people with fresh ideas and as long as you are willing to blood, sweat, and tears the hell out that idea, someone will be there to help you,” she says as she takes a sip of her Miller Lite.
The jobs Heidi obtained on her path to her current position all helped to lead her to where she is now. The CVB opened up the position in January 2014, and she jumped. “I get emotional when I think about it,” she says. “I truly was born to do this job.” She speaks of her ability to love her city and tell the story of Corpus to those who don’t live here.
Fiesta de la Flor is one of Heidi’s biggest feats. It is no easy task to put on a festival of such magnitude, but she is proud to have been a part of it from the ground up. In addition to the festival, CC 7 Day Film Festival is another huge accomplishment with her name on it. As we sit in a booth at The House of Rock for our interview, she points to a corner in the bar and a sense of nostalgia takes over. “It was right over there where the co-founder and I had the idea and, with the help of Casey Lain, we made it happen. After the first year, we couldn’t do it here anymore because it grew so much.”
She is the Corpus Christi Film Commissioner, the Music Office Director, she’s served on countless numbers of boards and committees, but most importantly, she is a mom and a wife. Her love for this city keeps the wheels in her mind turning at all times—constantly coming up with new ways to not only attract visitors to our city, but to keep our current residents excited about living here. The new year holds excitement for both Heidi and the CVB. Fiesta de la Flor will continue to be bigger and better than it has been before. They also are in the works of a new festival for the city, that she says, will completely change the way people view Corpus Christi.
Regardless of what Heidi Hovda has planned for the future, it is sure to be good. She knows this place like the back of her hand. “I know people have this image of me in their heads. It is an image of me being strong and saying whatever comes to mind and banging my fists on a table, and while yes, I am all of those things, I am also a person who cares deeply and has a profound passion for this place,” she says unapologetically, and for that, this city should be grateful.
Dr. Kelly Quintanilla
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi President
Dr. Kelly Quintanilla begins her thoughts with hope and optimism—emotions true to her character. “When my picture was hung in the hallway, the only woman amongst eleven portraits, I got a lump in my throat, because I knew I had overcome some pretty big limitations. When I saw my daughter take a photo to share with her friends, I knew she saw no limits.” Nothing is more important to Kelly than that. While becoming the President of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi was never really her career intention, when she was asked to serve as the interim President, something kind of clicked.
“I was inspired by all the people—the faculty, staff, alums, and community members. Being able to work daily with so many people who shared that passion for student success and understood the transformative power of higher education for students and the community, well that made it my dream job,” she says with a smile.
Kelly had just finished her PhD in Communication from Pennsylvania State University when she happened upon an ad for a position at TAMUCC. She describes her first day on campus as exciting and filled with energy. She instantly fell in love. She had found her home. In 1994, she became one of the youngest members of the faculty, and now, 24 years and several titles later, she became the first woman to hold the position of President.
Being the first woman president for the University is a big deal, and Kelly is aware of that. However, she also touches on the subject with a feeling of sadness. “I look forward to the day when leadership positions everywhere are filled at the same level of diversity we see in our community,” she says. “But, I also realize that is not going to happen until little girls see women in positions of power.”This feeling of inclusion for all is something quite evident in the work Kelly is doing for the university. As a first-generation college student, she understands how hard it is for some people to get to the front doors of higher education; she wants to be there for the underrepresented groups of students. In addition to her vision of inclusivity, Kelly is a huge advocate for the arts—a department that is oftentimes overlooked. While she didn’t come from an educational background of art, she held several positions in the department, and with her office being inside the Center for the Arts for twelve years, she speaks on how that experience helped shape her career. “The arts push students to be innovative, to work as a team, to think both critically and creatively, to take risks, and be resilient.”
Her hope for the future of the University is to maintain the level of excellence they have already achieved and continue along their trajectory of success. However, she makes it clear that at the Island University, they are never satisfied with the status quo, even if the status quo is excellence. Closing the gaps of achievement and delivering a robust campus experience are also high on her to-do list. She realizes it is a bold vision, to constantly strive for better than excellent, but she also knows her students deserve nothing less.
Corpus Christi Regional Economic Development Corporation, President and CEO
Upon arrival to One Shoreline Plaza, Iain Vasey opened his office door wide with a big smile. He wore a tie that day, just for us, he says. He is goofy and managed to crack jokes the entire time we photographed him on the Sea Wall one sunny Friday morning. “I’m giving you Blue Steel right now,” he says as he serves serious face to the camera.
Iain Vasey, the President and CEO of the CCREDC, is originally from England—a fact about him not a lot of people realize. He moved to the States when he was 19 on a scholarship to attend the University of Iowa. His career began in accounting until he made the jump over to economic development. His job, in layman’s terms, is a blend between the physical planning of infrastructures and how you pay for it all. After spending five years in Baton Rouge, he began looking for other options and Corpus came knocking. He couldn’t pass up the offer.
The work Iain and his colleagues do have long term outcomes and implications on how both the local and regional economy functions. He gets almost giddy when referring to the projects he has accomplished with the organization that truly help uplift the community. “I love what I am doing—I mean, you know this is a pretty cool gig,” he says with a smile. “You have to feel as though your work matters—that it is helping other people.”
Now, about three years into the job, Iain comments on how much Corpus has changed even in the short time he has been here. With the expansion of the Port comes a plethora of opportunities for both the community and the economy. In addition to the projects his team is constantly working on, Iain has a specific goal of getting the students in our community to obtain jobs here and stay in the city. He speaks on driving the importance of STEM education all the way down to the elementary school level.
The future of economic development in the city of Corpus Christi looks bright and Iain Vasey is leading the way. His team vigorously works to help better our community in economic terms, but also in communal terms. His overall mission is growth. “If a community isn’t growing, it is just dying,” he says. He explains how we have to be thinking about the things we can do to put the economic building blocks together in order to help our community. “Think about what this community will look like in 40 years. Things are going to be very different,” he says, “and what we do today helps shape that.”