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Kelly Schulz, 38

Vice President of Communications and Public Relations, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Kelly Schulz was living and working in Texas. The storm and ensuing levee failures flooded the region and destroyed her family's home in St. Bernard Parish.

"I'm from New Orleans and went to LSU, but I lived in Dallas for 10 years and loved my job as a publicist," she says, "But then the offer came [to work as the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau's vice president of communications and public relations]. People in Dallas thought I was crazy (to move to a devastated city). But it was such a great opportunity — an opportunity to come home and help rebuild the city by helping promote tourism."

Saying the success of tourism is largely "based on perception and impression," Schulz and her team have succeeded in countering misinformed perceptions like those she encountered in Dallas following Katrina, as well as those that surfaced after the BP oil disaster in April 2010.

"Even in 2007, when we had the Convention Center back open, the Superdome back open, we got calls asking, 'Do your hotels have electricity?' After the oil spill, we had to inform people it was 100 miles away.

"Basically, we've gone from 3 million visitors, and these were mosly FEMA workers and emergency contractors, in 2006 to 8.75 million in 2011, which is better than a typical year pre-Katrina," Schulz says. "For the past six years, it's been incredible to be a part of the tourism industry, which has been key to the city's recovery." — Frank Etheridge

 

 

Dana Stumpf, 37

CAO, Durr Heavy Construction

President, Gentilly Landfill

Founder, Samson LLC

Dana Stumpf believes soccer is the sport of the next generation in New Orleans, a belief that led her to found Samson LLC, a program to facilitate soccer camps and community programs for local youths in 2008.

“Soccer is the world’s sport,” she says. “It was so fascinating to me that it is popular everywhere else but the U.S. However, that is steadily changing.”

Shortly after founding Samson, the business purchased the minor league soccer team, the New Orleans Jesters. Stumpf says she wanted the team to be “a uniquely New Orleans brand focused on the NOLA family regardless of their background, race or culture.”

In 2012, she gave the team to NOLA Soccer Academy (NSA), the nonprofit community/youth affiliate of the Jesters that works with organizations such as the Carrollton Boosters and Big Easy Sports. Stumpf stresses that the Jesters and NSA are focused on quality development and players’ overall experience rather than mass-producing average players.

“We want kids and families to truly learn about the beautiful game and become fans for life,” Stumpf says. “We focus on development both on and off the field.”

Besides her passion for youth and soccer, Stumpf spends her time as the Chief Administrative Officer at Durr Heavy Construction, as well as president of Gentilly Landfill.

Stumpf says her passion for New Orleans has inspired her involvement in the city.

“I only have the right to expect certain things of my community if I am willing to contribute and work hard to get them,” she says. — Marguerite Lucas

 

 

Ashley Thomas, 27

Owner, Creative Vibe

Outreach and communications specialist, Total community action

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Ashley Thomas founded Creative Vibe because she believes small businesses should be able to market themselves as well as large corporations do. The New Orleans native and Xavier University graduate's idea for a company providing graphic design, T-shirt design and photography services won her an $18,000 start-up fund from the Allan Houston Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurship.

"My mission is to provide affordable, accessible and quality graphic design services to all business owners," says Thomas, a graphic designer and photographer.

Thomas is the outreach and communications specialist at Total Community Action (TCA), a nonprofit that provides a range of services to families in need; she also has performed design work for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Roots of Music. Through TCA, Thomas conducts a summer program to teach young people graphic design, which they can develop into marketable skills. Her work with the TCA prompted the National Community Action Agency to invite her to make a presentation at the group's annual conference.

Creative Vibe has done design work for New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Roots of Music, and Thomas also finds time to maintain the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship's website as a volunteer.

She plans to continue working in the community and hopes to become a well-recognized name in New Orleans, all while helping business owners help themselves. — Marta Jewson

 

 

Iam Christian Tucker, 29

President/CEO, Integrated Logistical Support Inc.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Whether she's working undercover as a police officer, or running an engineering company responsible for some of New Orleans' most critical public projects, Iam Tucker says she just wants to give back to the community.

Growing up in an engineering family, "I didn't have dolls, I had IBMs," says Tucker, whose father Robert founded Integrated Logistical Support Inc. (ILSI). Tucker went in her own direction at first, majoring in criminal justice at Louisiana State University and becoming a Baton Rouge police officer. Worried about police work putting his daughter in harm's way, Tucker's father lured her back into the business in 2008.

"It was so hard to leave being a police officer," Tucker says, "but once I got back to New Orleans, I loved it."

The skills she learned as a police officer — self-reliance, leadership and an ability to handle the unexpected — helped Tucker transition into her role heading up a minority woman-owned civil engineering company.

"Being a leader is the same in any field," she says.

Under her leadership, ILSI landed contracts with the Army Corps of Engineers for levee fortification, the Sewerage and Water Board for street improvements, as well as other large projects important to area residents.

"It is a lot of pressure to get it right," she says. "Working on the levees — I care about them so much. I trust in our work so much that I just bought a lot right there on Bellaire Drive (just steps from the 17th Street Canal). Our expertise is pretty damn good." — Eileen Loh

 

 

Allen Villarubia, 27

Commercial Underwriter, Gulf Coast Bank and Trust

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

New Orleans native Allen Villarubia's short career path has already yielded huge benefits not only for himself, but also for his hometown and professional and personal passions.

As an undergraduate at the University of New Orleans, Villarubia was a triple major in finance, economics and business administration while also working full-time for the Louisiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC). During an 18-month period, his work with the center raised more than $10 million in capital for local businesses, earning Villarubia the 2010 Louisiana Startup Superstar award.

"It was a lot of Main Street, places you and I go in," Villarubia says of the enterprises he worked with at SBDC. "But they represent a wide variety of industries."

He returned to UNO to earn his Master of Business Administration degree, with a concentration in finance. His responsibilities at SBDC primarily involved connecting entrepreneurs with loan officers at banks and the federal Small Business Administration program.

"I spent a lot of my focusing on loans, so I became [SBDC] office's loan expert," Villarubia says. "That's what led me to my current position [as commercial underwriter for Gulf Coast Bank and Trust]."

Now, the Lower Garden District resident looks to parlay this professional experience to help boost his passion: volleyball, a sport without a facility in post-Katrina Orleans Parish. "We're trying to raise the capital to secure a location and launch [NOLA Beach Volleyball]," Villarubia says. "It's an exciting process." — FRANK ETHERIDGE

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