GALVESTON, Texas (KIAH) – Gina Spagnola, our Houston winner for Remarkable Woman of the year, has become synonymous with this phrase: Unrelenting champion for business and community.
She was appointed by the Texas Governor the Business Advisory Council to the Texas Division of Emergency Management. She is on the Humanities Texas Board of Directors. And beyond that, she still gives so much of her time to the local Salvation Army, which named her the 2019 Champion of Hope. That is just naming a fraction of her dedicated work to the Galveston community.
Gina is determined to help her neighbors, just like her Grand Mimi taught her.
Sitting on about 41 square miles of land on Galveston Island, the City of Galveston is home to nearly 54,000 people and hundreds of small businesses. And at the center of it all, is the 2023 Remarkable Woman winner for the Houston area, Gina Spagnola. She has served as the president and CEO of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce. A position she had held since 2004.
“I love it. I love it so much, because it’s given me the opportunity to just open doors and to do so many really good things with my team for this community that I love,” said Spagnola.
“I’m a fighter for business; I want to see entrepreneurs succeed. I take it very seriously.”Gina Spagnola President and CEO of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce
Gina Spagnola is the President and CEO of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce. Under her two decade-long leadership, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce a five-star accreditation – the highest rating in the industry. Only 2 percent of chambers in the nation hold this distinction.
Even when the pandemic shuttered most of America’s businesses, Gina never shut down.
“Through the pandemic, I never missed a day of work. I came in every day,” she said.
With a camera in hand, Gina went to several businesses – creating videos and urging them to share their story online.
Under her direction, she and her team personally called all 700-plus chamber members. She and her staff were on call, 24/7. She even had the vision for a virtual mall on the chamber’s homepage to sell products and services for the small business she fights for every day. This resulted in 85 percent member retention while many other chambers closed their doors.
“This wasn’t a time to close the doors of the Chamber of Commerce, they needed as the most,” she proclaimed. “I believe that every American has the God given right to turn that ‘open’ sign. We weren’t going to stop until that day happens.”
Gina works tirelessly supporting and promoting coastal Texas small business. For example, she developed and still coordinates the Galveston County Coastal Bi-Annual Legislative Tour.
It is no wonder Gina was named the 2022 Best Galvestonian.
Among her other top honors, receiving the 2020 Top 50 Most Admired CEO Award from the Houston Business Journal.
“It was a big deal. To be in that room. I was so honored. [Can cut here if needed] And I just look around and think, wow, why am I here? And then people would come up and say oh my gosh, you do all these wonderful, you know, I’ve always wanted to meet you but I’m always just, it was a huge honor.”
And then, she was named Houston’s 50 Most Influential Women of 2020-2021.
“I’ve just tried to make a difference,” she emotionally shared.
Gina’s passion for being a positive force goes beyond the open door signs. She was the visionary behind the Galveston Women’s Conference — now in its 16th year. It attracts more than 1,000 people a year to Galveston – which in turn supports local business and tourism. Most recently, Jenna Bush Hager was the keynote speaker.
She also fights on behalf of the youth. She sees their potential and helps them discover the opportunities that lie beyond the Galveston causeway.
“Something near and dear to my heart are kids and education. And our chamber really wasn’t involved in that 20 years ago when I started, but how can you have a thriving community when 62% of your kids are on fair and reduced lunch meals, and they may not have the opportunity to own laptops,” she said.
One of those educational opportunities is Lemonade Day – which Gina brought to Galveston and now oversees as the local county and city director. She and other volunteers teach the youth how to own and operate a business. Currency, there are more than 1,100 kids in the program.
But one still stands out in her mind – a homeless young man who didn’t have a strong support system.
“I had one of the kids, you know, tell us that his dad said, ‘You’re a piece of crap.’ But the worst word. ‘You’re never going to do this. You’re you were no good when you were born,” she retold. “And I said, Well, one thing that Ms. Spagnola says is that God doesn’t make pieces.”
Then she shared the incredible news: “He won national Entrepreneur of the Year in the nation in the nation.”
Where there is struggle and heartache, Gina is there, by the side of those in need.
After Hurricane Ike made landfall in Galveston Island, she and her team worked out of the cars to help bring disaster relief. Gina even developed a business recovery plan and expo – which gained her state recognition.
In May of 2011, she headed out to Joplin, Missouri, after they were deviated by an EF5 tornado.
In 2021, after Hurricane Ida raged against the Louisiana coastline, she collaborated with regional partners to coordinate drop-off sites and deliveries to those severely impacted. She led the effort to fill an 18-wheeler full of supplies and raised more than $40,000 in donations.
Through her knowledge of disaster planning and recovery, she was selected a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce National Business Recovery Corps. In fact, she was one of 10 individuals invited to serve on the Delegation US-Japan Grassroots Disaster Exchange Program.
“At the end, I want to know that I’ve made a difference in people’s lives,” she emphasized.
The drive to uplift and improve the lives of others is part of a long legacy of thoughtful parents, influential aunties, and one big hearted grandma.
“My grandmother. None of these recognitions that I’ve had go without telling the story of my grandmother,” smiled Gina. “When my grandmother passed away at 95, you could not the church could not hold the mass of people that came, whose lives that she had touched and made a difference in.”
She saw that lemonade, that glass of lemonade that I love so much, overflowing with goodness. I don’t ever recall any negativity.Gina reflected on her inspirational grandmother
This is just a small portion of the goodness Gina has brought to her community and the lives of others across this nation.
Honestly, Gina needs her own hour-long special so we could showcase all of her work, the countless days she has put into building a stronger Galveston, how she has impacted the positive future of the youth, on top of all of the awards and recognitions.