Fourteen under 40

BY Susan Miller

Though they represent different fields these business leaders all have something in common: theyre our friends and neighbors and they are all committed to making our community a better place. Meet Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach’s faces to watch in 2015 — WBMs 14 under 40.


Stephania J. Bloodworth

Business Operations Manager New Hanover Regional Medical Center Foundation

Age: 36


The NHRMC Foundation the hospitals community outreach organization relies on Stepahania a masters degreed accountant for budgeting data analysis financial reporting and more. Stephania enjoys traveling — her choice getaway spot is Orlando Florida — fishing and shopping. You might see her dining with her husband Dan and their two sons Kymel and Tyler at Sweet n Savory Cafe one of their favorite local restaurants.


What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job?

The most challenging aspect of my job is the time constraints. There are so many tasks to get done and oftentimes not enough time to complete everything as planned. However I have found that making a to-do list is useful. I may not have accomplished everything on my list but it keeps me focused and helps me manage the time more efficiently.


Who is your role model/inspiration?

My mother Diane Jackson is someone that has always been there no matter what. She does not say much but her actions speak louder than words. The inspiration she expressed during her battle with breast cancer and congestive heart failure spoke highly about her strength and motivation.


What is something people dont know about you?

I am a board member of the Randall Parkway branch of State Employees Credit Union Advisory Board and a committee member of the UNCW African American Graduate Association.


Corey Heim

Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer DryCase LLC

Age: 30


Corey cofounded the DryCase company makers of vacuum-sealed waterproof cases for smart phones and tablets in 2009. Since then his company has expanded to include waterproof speakers backpacks headphones and more and has won numerous awards including the 2011 North Carolina Companies to Watch and two 2012 Coastal Entrepreneur awards. With all the accolades and an internationally recognized brand Corey says he is still a minimalist at heart who enjoys vegetable gardening and cooking.


Are you a dog or cat person?

Neither but my fiance has a golden retriever so I guess Im becoming more of a dog person.


What is Wilmington/Wrightsville Beachs best kept secret?

I think one of the greatest parts about living here is that I keep discovering new best kept secrets all the time. It never ceases to amaze me every time I discover a new spot; mine usually revolve around surfing diving fishing or anything outdoors related.


What is your favorite vacation spot?

I love going to the Outer Banks Cape Hatteras area for great surfing and fishing. Its an easy trip from here and still is very much a laid back place with down-to-earth people.


Andrew Gray

CTO/partner Tayloe Gray Kristof digital marketing agency

Age: 37


Andrew completed his first creative services job in the fifth grade when he made posters for his classmates using Print Shop and a four-color dot matrix printer. Later as a student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill he founded an investor-backed software company. Today the cross-country traveler who has driven the perimeter of the United States — twice — enjoys attending concerts at Greenfield Lake Amphitheater and spending long weekends in Asheville.


What is the most overlooked issue in America today?

Broadband access. Every American should have access to unrestricted affordable and fast Internet access. There needs to be more competition for providers to encourage lower prices and innovation.


What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Finding and keeping talent. Creative people can work anywhere now and you really have to work hard to create a workplace environment that is fun and productive to keep great people.


What is your proudest moment?

We have a 2 1/2 year old son and a 3-month-old daughter. Each time my son does the right thing says please/thank you puts away his toys etc. it makes me pretty proud that we are raising good kids.


Adrienne Moore

Agent James E. Moore Insurance Agency Inc.

Age: 33


Adrienne a third generation division-one athlete says when she was a child she wanted to be either a dolphin trainer at Sea World or an FBI agent. This advocate of reducing pollution and waste says she recycles everything and dreams of one day owning a farm for rescued animals. Today she is an insurance producer for the James E. Moore Agency which celebrated its 60-year anniversary in 2014. She loves to eat ice cream and secretly aspires to appear on Dancing With the Stars.


Are you a dog person or a cat person?

Both! I have two cats and my dog Mason comes to work every day with me.


What is your favorite vacation spot?

Staycation at Wrightsville Beach and New York City at Christmas time.


What is Wilmington/Wrightsville Beachs best kept secret?

It is no secret but Thalian Hall is wonderful.


Tracy L.L. Holbrook

Chemical Technology Lead Instructor Cape Fear Community College

Age 33


Tracy who began teaching chemistry at the college level when he was 21 years old admits education was not always his dream profession. With a knack for mathematics he once aimed to be an accountant but says he changed his mind after a job-shadowing program revealed the most exciting part of the day was lunch. A child of the Appalachians he admits to making his share of mud pies and eating dirt under the front porch. Today his snack of choice is the kale nachos at Sea Level Gourmet which he says are out of this world.


Who is your role model/inspiration?

I feel that many use the term role model as a person that they want to be a carbon copy of. I dont spend my time aspiring to be like anyone. My energy is placed into what I need to accomplish and the long winding path that I am slowly paving for myself.  However I have to admit that Lady Gaga does inspire me — how on Earth does she pull off some of her outfits and armadillo heels with such ease?


What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Keeping up with the vocabulary and social media! I regard myself as someone who is still old-school. I refused to buy myself a cell phone until 2008. I constantly told myself that no one is important enough to have a phone attached to them at all hours of the day. This mentality stays true to social media sites — why do people feel the need to post all of their activities throughout each day?


What is something people dont know about you?

During high school I was very active with journalism and served as a school photographer and daily TV news anchor. I also heavily participated in One Act Play and other extracurricular activities. However this did not come naturally and required some coaxing from my high school journalism/English teacher (thank you Susan Collins); if it wasnt for her I may never have overcome my introverted disposition and social anxiety. If it wasnt for her I also would not have broken my leg on her trampoline.


Lindsey McKee Luther

District Court Judge

Age: 31


As a child Lindsey aspired to become a large animal veterinarian. She grew up riding horses and dreamt of traveling from farm to farm to treat the large mammals. As a student she realized her strengths and altered her pursuits to become an attorney. Still an animal lover today she has a pet fainting goat named Sebastian and three rescue dogs: Blue Bandit and Lewis. Lindsey was sworn in as New Hanover and Pender counties newest district court judge on the first of the year and in her free time enjoys baking and cheering from the stands at ACC basketball games.


Who is your role model/inspiration?

Only one person in the world has ever been able to inspire love demand and encourage all in one my grandfather Jack McKee. A military instructor to his core I learned from him how to properly make a bed to say maam and sir to everyone I met no matter their age to respect myself and others and to always demand the very best of myself never settling for less. I owe him a sincere debt of gratitude that I could never repay.


What is your favorite vacation spot?

I have traveled across this country and abroad and without a doubt the mountains of North Carolina top my list. I have vacationed in Alleghany County North Carolina since I was a child and of all the places in the world it will always hold a special place in my heart. A rocking chair a back porch a good book and a cup of coffee are all that I need. 


What is the most overlooked issue in America today?

The guidance and mentorship of our youth is of paramount importance. We react to criminal events occurring at the hands of young people but we cannot simply read and talk about bad acts we must take action to prevent this behavior. We as a community must come together become more active in the lives of young people serve as their leaders and mentors and inspire them to achieve.


Laura Miller

Architect Vice President and Principal LS3P

Age: 37


Laura whose design credits include Wilmingtons Live Oak Bank headquarters the Wilmington Convention Center and Cape Fear Community Colleges Union Station says as a child she told people her name was Daisy Duke. Her sense of humor may come from her sister Dana who can make her laugh until her stomach hurts — sometimes with just a single word. Laura is a dog person with a particular weakness for boxers a wife to husband Heath and a mom to two children 6-year-old Christian and 4-year-old Elle whom she says make each day better and better.


What is your proudest moment?

In the span of one month when I was 22 years old I graduated from college got married and moved from western Pennsylvania to Wilmington. My husband and I didnt know anyone in Wilmington and I was the only one with a job when we first arrived. I was scared nervous and excited all at the same time! In the 14 years since then we have developed amazing friendships created successful careers expanded our family with two children and made Wilmington our home. It wasnt always easy but Im proud that we did it together and have so much more to look forward to.  


Who is your role model/inspiration?

This is going to sound very cliche but my role models are my parents. My mom is a retired elementary school teacher and has had an impact on the lives of countless students. She approaches every situation with compassion fairness and always a little bit of fun. My dad is a geologist but hes done many different things over the years. I learned my work ethic from him. He works hard is passionate about what he does and constantly strives for perfection but above all his family comes first. I like to think I got the best part of each of them.


What is your favorite vacation spot?

My dad has a cottage in Ontario Canada that has been passed down in our family from my great grandfather. Ive been going there on vacation since I was a child and this past summer we took our son and daughter with us. The cottage is in the middle of the woods on a lake with no electricity limited indoor plumbing and no cell phone or internet access. We spend the week playing games sitting on the screened porch reading exploring the lake and just enjoying the quiet time with each other. I cant imagine a better way to spend a vacation.


D.J. Struntz

Adventure Photographer D.J. Struntz Photography

Age: 39


A University of North Carolina Wilmington masters degree holder D.J. worked as a marine mammal biologist before transitioning to photography. Today he is a senior staff photographer for Surfing Magazine Riffe International Hawaii Skin Diver Magazine and Globe International as well as the director of social media and adventure sports liaison for North American Rescue. When hes not traveling the globe his proudest moments he says are spent being a father to his 6-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter.


Who is your role model/inspiration?

At the very beginning it was Aaron Chang. Since then theres been a series of people. My photo editors have made a huge difference. My boss at Globe Joe G hes the director of visual arts has been a huge inspiration to me. In the last 10 years he has been my biggest influence.


What is the most overlooked issue in America today?

Living on the coast something we really take for granted is the health of our oceans. Im also involved in Waves for Water — Ive been involved for the last five or six years — which initiates projects that provide access to clean drinking water throughout the world.


What is Wilmington/Wrightsville Beachs best kept secret?

With all the places I go in the world this is the best place to call home. This is the place I want to raise my kids.


Ace Cofer

Partner/Realtor Hardee Hunt and Williams

Age: 35


Aces family name is sprinkled throughout the annals of local history. His great-grandmother owned and operated the Ocean Inn a 50-room oceanfront cottage that sat just south of Station One. Aces father and mother met at Shuneys now Loggerheads when they were 13 and 15 — theyre still married today. Ace serves as chairman of the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board and he and his wife Katy were the original proprietors of Cafe del Mar which they opened when they were only 22 and 23 respectively. While the Cofer name is part of Wrightsville Beach Wrightsville is part of his familys name too: Aces twin sons are named Wright and Banks.


What is the best advice you ever received?

Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.


What is your happiest /proudest moment?

Happiest moments would be my wife Katy saying I do and seeing the birth of our twins Wright (who was on the right) and Banks (who was twin B). The proudest moment so far is walking into Cafe del Mar with Katy Wright and Banks. Proud that the coffee shop (our first child) is still going strong servicing the Wrightsville community.


Any regrets?

Only one. By age 14 I had attained the rank of Life Scout with Troop 232 here on Wrightsville Beach. I had completed my Eagle project and all merit badge/civic duty requirements but walked away from it before reaching Eagle. Now that Im older I realize I broke my mothers heart sorry Mom! I promise that your twin grandsons will reach Eagle in my stead.



Kristen Spetrino

Owner Coastal Cupcakes and Topsee Tulip Frosting

Age: 35


Kristen says one of the greatest things about Wilmington is its downtown area where she is happy to both live and work. She opened her gourmet cupcake shop Coastal Cupcakes on Princess Street in 2008 and in 2014 began packaging her homemade cream cheese frosting Topsee Tulip for retail. Today it appears on the shelves of Harris Teeter and Whole Foods stores ready to sweeten up cakes or just be licked off a spoon. When shes not whipping up confections Kristen says she is fond of vacationing anywhere with white sandy beaches and aspires to be a professional speaker.


When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?

My first career choice was to be a mailman. Our mailman dropped off our mail around 11 am each day so I thought that would be the end of my day and I told my Mom I could take her to lunch each day.


What is something people dont know about you?

Im married and have a 12-year-old step-daughter.


What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Having to wear so many hats.


Kevin Lee-y Green

Owner/Artistic Director Techmoja Dance and Theater CompanyAge: 28


Kevin is a natural performer and has been for as long as he can remember. As a child he wrote his own shows and recruited neighborhood children to star in them. Tickets were 25 cents and the concession stand featured three different kinds of milk. Today he and his company Techmoja have produced a wide variety of performances including a musical adaptation of Alice Walkers The Color Purple and the Broadway hit Dreamgirls. When hes not directing choreographing or performing Kevin enjoys cooking dining at Flaming Amys Bowl and laughing with his nephew Nicholas.


What is the most overlooked issue in America today? I think people brush the funding cuts for the arts under the rug. Im noticing the younger the performer is the less exposed they are and as the educator you have to play catch up to get them where they need to be. This is a major issue that needs to be addressed before its too late.


What is your proudest moment?

When I received the performing arts award from the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. It was probably the most Ive seen my mother smile. I could tell then that she was extremely proud of me and I felt like I was headed in the right direction. There is nothing like the approval of your mother.


Who is your role model?

I have two role models but unfortunately they have passed away. My mother and father were the prime example of what it means to: a) be a consummate parent; b) work hard for what you have; c) be a great leader; d) give back to your community. Anyone they came in contact with could agree. They were very supportive of both my brother and me. Most fathers would not approve of their son being a dancer cheerleader or singer. But my father supported me. My mother was my number one cheerleader and taught me how to run this business and how to network. She was truly amazing.


Richard Davis

Browncoat Theatre Co-Founder and Artistic Director

Age: 30-something


Richard established what he calls a house of ideas at the Browncoat the downtown nonprofit theater he founded in 2007 with his wife Amber. Its a haven for emerging playwrites actors and designers. Though Richards long been involved in the Wilmington theatre scene he says his first love was baseball and he once aspired to play for the Atlanta Braves. The most important thing he learned from baseball he says is its OK to fail. One action wont define your entire life; theres always another at bat so go for it.


What is your favorite vacation spot?

A movie theater on a summer afternoon. My mom and I used to go to the movies a lot growing up. It was our special thing. Theres just something special about walking through those double doors. Youre blind because its so bright outside. Youre hot then you get hit with that waft of popcorn-scented cool air. It just makes me smile thinking about it.


What is the best advice you ever received?

I dont know that it is as much one specific piece of advice as an overall example of kindness and generosity from the amazing people in my life. Growing up I didnt come from a wealthy family. My grandpa was a retired Marine. Mom and Dad were factory workers. Even though we didnt have much I watched them sacrifice for others. My grandparents kept an open table for anyone who was hungry. My parents kept the door open for my friends when they had troubles at home. Mom volunteered what little time she had for the March of Dimes the American Cancer Society and any co-worker who ever got sick. I hope their example is reflected in me and the things I do.


Are you a dog or cat person?

Im a dog person no question. We have three: two rescues and a pure-bred German shepherd. Mina our maltese/poodle mix has me wrapped around her little paw. That dog has an uncanny ability to de-stress me. No matter how my day has been or whats weighing on my mind I just melt when she hops up into my lap. Shes the best.


Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams

Writer and English Department Faculty Member at University of North Carolina Wilmington

Age: 35


Hannah admits that once when she was at the height of her obsession with crossword puzzles she began timing herself. You could say she has a knack for words and not just across and down. She was awarded the 2010 Rona Jaffe National Literary Award for The Following Sea her memoir exploring the lives of her parents; a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship; and the 2013 Whiting Writers Award for her memoir and her novella The Man Who Danced with Dolls. As a child she says she wanted to be a linguist a lawyer an architect and a painter — but she has always been a writer.


What do you think is the most challenging aspect of your job?

We dont privilege education. We dont fund it. There are brilliant students with whom Id love to spend so much more time. And there is a deep disconcerting apathy in other students that could be exploded and replaced with some starlit and glinting aspiration only too many of us are running a little ragged trying to keep up. Maybe well come around as a country. I hope so.


What is the most overlooked issue in America today?

There are so many cruel and sharp edges in this world but all I know to do is: try to be decent and promote tolerance in whatever small ways I can. Im going to crib a thought from Arundhati Roy Another world is not only possible she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.


What is your favorite vacation spot?

This is hard. I love South Africa — Capetown and the Transkei. Did you know that Transkei means land beyond the river Kei? I stupidly didnt expect it to be so lush but fields of the wild callas native to South Africa sometimes stretched as far I could see. Im mostly happy to go anywhere though. I recently expressed interest in a trip to Islamabad. Which I guess means I will literally do anything to put off having to write.


Zach Crain

CEO Freaker USA

Age: 30


Zach Crain who founded Freaker USA in 2011 is perhaps best known for his       wacky sense of humor if not his trademark beard. He says Freakers knit bottle koozies that stretch to fit any size bottle or can were invented to remedy Americas biggest problem: sweaty bottles and moist handshakes. Today Freakers which are manufactured in a family-owned hosiery mill in Troy NC are available in dozens of colors and designs.


What makes you laugh the hardest?

Alpacas. Those things are ridiculous.


Who is your role model/inspiration?

My toilet seat has a beautifully painted portrait of Tony Danza on top. So. Its only fair to say Tony Danza.


What is something people do not know about you?

My dog Mr. Pete is consulted before every executive decision.