Gabriel Guerra - President of Kleberg Bank
A rising tide raises all ships, and for Gabriel Guerra, President of Kleberg Bank, leading that tide of local success in Corpus means being equally invested in the success of others. Born and raised in this city, his pride for the inner workings of commerce has pushed him to champion business rights and resources by serving in leadership roles within our Chamber of Commerce - most notably in his present role as Chairman.
Corpus Christi has a long and rich history of small business and thriving entrepreneurial spirit, largely supported by our two local chambers: the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce and the Corpus Christi Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Both have held tremendous cultural and historical significance in shaping local commerce and advocating for business in the Coastal Bend.
Founded in 1916, the Corpus Christi Commercial Club was founded by local businessmen, and over time, evolved into the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. This year, the establishment celebrates 100 years in serving our community and influencing the most key developments in local commerce, and it has played a significant role in the success of major economic centers such as the Port of Corpus Christi, the creation of the Harbor Bridge, CCAD, The Texas State Aquarium, and so much more.
The Hispanic Chamber has 78 years of promoting a member-supported base for advocacy for local Hispanic businesses. Originally named the Corpus Christi Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce, they were largely started as a disenfranchised collective, yet have evolved into a generous support celebrating cultural heritage and providing resources for economic growth throughout our city.
Throughout the years, there have been talks of a merger between the two, but as talk often goes, it never had a leader willing to spearhead the effort and fully explore the concept. The impetus to resume the conversation came last year when CC Chamber CEO Foster Edwards announced his retirement. With impending new leadership on the horizon, it seemed like the perfect time to make the transition to fully join the two Chambers.
Knowing the time was ripe, Guerra led the charge in facilitating a merger to actualization. He kept the discussion on track and in constant motion. Even at times when it all seemed destined to crumble, he didn’t allow it. For members on both sides, the issue of multiple chambers has long been one of duplication and overlap. But this new joint venture will promote a true voice of unity within our sparkling city’s business community. In fact, Guerra predicts that this will create an uptake in new membership across the board. The tremendous potential for what true unity could create was all the more reason that Guerra persevered in seeing this through.
Equal representation from both sides served in the capacity of implementing the intricacies of the merger. Professional Facilitator, Toby Futrell, was brought in to serve both Chambers in this process and represent the ten key components; the primary of which detailed this is to be a true merger, not an acquisition. This will become a new entity with a new name that will be unveiled later this year through a great celebration. Throughout the process an open dialogue with membership was maintained, which helped reinforce the sense of unity within.
What is the significance of this merger? “I feel our community was hungry for this in a big way. This is a signal that our city has moved forward and is unified as one voice, not as a community that is split. [Corpus Christi is] a community that recognizes culture, appreciates diversity, but appreciates the individual for what they bring to the table in terms of business. We can now see a community that is unified in attracting new business to our community” says Guerra. “We recognize the historical context of where we come from, but moving forward, Corpus Christi will be viewed as a model of unity.”
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On the back lot of the Corpus Christi Food Bank, you will notice an unusual new plastic dome. A greenhouse has appeared, and in it something genius is taking place. Casey Williams and Lawrence Pilareiro are avid growers- we cannot call them “gardeners” because they do not tend to the average soil, water, and sun methods. Instead, they have turned nature on its head and created an entire new ecosystem perfectly interwoven with symbiotic symmetry to establish a new way a life. They call it “Aquaponics.” Aquaponics is in of itself a nuance- a combination of Aquaculture—the raising of fish and Hydroponics—growing plants without soil. Their goals are simple: create a clean, organic method for growing high yield crops in small spaces with the least amount of pest control issues…and then tell the world how they did it. Education is the driving passion at the forefront of their efforts.
Stepping into the greenhouse, there is an immediate clean lush green aroma, layered with the acoustic lullaby of running water. Channels of water run the length of the greenhouse and are buffered by an equal-sized channel of crumbled shale rock. Floating atop the water are dozens of foam platforms dotted by petite shoots of lettuce reaching toward the warm sun. The rock beds are a lush array of various vegetables from broccoli to cilantro and kohlrabi. The real workers are out of sight. Under the foam trays of vegetables, swimming among their roots are hundreds of tilapia, who have the important job of creating waste that makes for viable plant food, while the plants maintain water purity, creating an oxygen-rich environment that the fish can thrive in. There is a third party in this triangle that is a little more ambiguous. They are naturally occurring organisms attracted to this environment - microbes and worms add to the nutrient density of the shale mixed media beds as they process vegetation through their bodies. All told, it’s an intricately woven society engineered to be fully self-supporting.
The sheer passion that Williams and Pilareiro possess for this method is contagious. They grew up together on neighboring farms in Riviera, TX. With combined backgrounds in commercial farming and biology, these lifelong friends came together to approach the Food Bank with their concept of creating an urban garden with a focus on teaching people how to become more self-sustaining and to learn to appreciate their own health by connecting to the process of producing their own food source. It was Williams who already worked at the Food Bank who first approached them about the empty field on their property that was just begging to be used! Together, they formed Corpus Christi Aquaponics (CCAP) on land operated by the Food Bank, and have built it with almost 100% recycled material. They broke ground in May of 2015 and are entering their first full season of production. They hope that beyond the local tables through farmer’s markets they can eventually partner with local restaurants in a community pride partnership for locally grown produce. In addition to the educational partnership with the Food Bank, they also donate their excess produce.
Innovation and education are what motivate Williams and Pilareiro to push nature’s envelope and continually overcome and engineer this truly new method of growing produce and achieving a more sustainable lifestyle. They are hoping to streamline their system so that it can be easily duplicated in schools, urban gardens, and serve as an educational tool to all who encounter it!
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Nationally recognized and locally sponsored by Kleberg Bank and the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, “Lemonade Day” is fast approaching, set for May 14th, 2016. Its purpose is to elevate children of all ages to dabble for a day in entrepreneurship and small business. Flour Bluff sisters Danielle (11) and Makayla (9) Gonzales are putting the finishing touches on their chalkboard menu and calculating how many sweet treats to bake. For these spunky sisters, a lemonade stand at the foot of their driveway is big business.
The quirky and talkative duo know how to sell lemonade. Gearing up for their second year participating in Lemonade Day, Danielle is all business, and Makayla is the one whose wit and humor will break your wallet! These two have an extensive plan laid out, taking what they learned last year and expounding upon that this year. They know that success is all in the planning.
Dad Simon Gonzales crafted a dreamy lemonade stand out of upcycled pallets and a wood shingle roof. The girls carefully decorated it with colorful accents. They then hit the kitchen with mom, Brandy, baking a host of sweet treats ranging from orange chocolate dipped pretzels to lavender cookies, peppermint brownies and lemon squares. “All made with essential oils” the girls proudly boast. They are already learning that capitalizing on trends and standing out from the crowd is an important key to success. They have evaluated last year’s sales and decided to re-work the menu a tad, taking off the pretzels that were time consuming and the least purchased item, while increasing the cookies and bars that sold the greatest. As for the lemonade, they offer both traditional and pink. But for those who want to live a little, Makayla has created her own cocktail she calls “the mix”- combining the two.
Last year, the girls raised over $300 for their favorite charities - The Wounded Warrior Project and Little Miss Kickball.
This year they have elected to earn for the Gulf Coast Humane Society and CASA. Their plan is profoundly detailed, complete with a marketing campaign that, like last year, will start a week before they open with a social media campaign, and then the day before the sale their wooden signs that will go up throughout the neighborhood.
“It was hard work” says Makayla, who says she had to take a few Union breaks last time. Big sister Danielle rolls her eyes but chimes in “we spent a lot of time on it, but one thing we thought was cool was that our neighborhood kept thanking us for bringing people together; they even brought out lawn chairs and stayed around to chat.” At that she reminds her parents that they need to plan to set up a special seating area this year to invite patrons to linger. Their favorite customer was their school principal, Dr. Nikole Youngburg. But this year, the sisters are really hoping the Mayor stops by to taste their lemonade!
“Last year they learned so much about running a business and interacting with customers” says Brandy, “but this year I want to emphasize for them the process of calculating profit after expenses, so together we will keep track of what we spend as we prepare.”
The girls giggle and toast as they make one of Makayla’s cocktails. I ask if they plan to go into business together when they grow up. Danielle thinks about it, but Makayla immediately pipes up “yes, we will have a massage place, but Danielle will probably have to give me massages…during my Union breaks.”