Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development

Ben Eng

April 21, 2022 Coalfield Development Season 2 Episode 1
Change in the Coalfields: A Podcast by Coalfield Development
Ben Eng
Show Notes Transcript

Original intro/outro music: 
"'Till I See Stars" by The Parachute Brigade

John F. Kennedy:

The sun does not always shine in West Virginia but the people always do. I'm delighted to be here.

Brandon Intro:

These are historic times in Appalachia. A lot has changed. A lot is changing now and a lot still needs to change. In our podcast we talk with change makers right square in the middle of all this, working to ensure the changes for the good. You're listening to "Change in the Coalfields," a podcast by Coalfield Development. I'm your host, Brandon Dennison.

Brandon Dennison:

So this is "Change in the Coalfields." My name is Brandon Dennison, I'm your host. Really excited this week to have Ben Eng, Professor Ben Eng. Ben teaches in the business school at Marshall University, teaches entrepreneurship design thinking and runs the iCenter, which is a huge service to the local economy. I'm honored to be entrepreneur in residence with the iCenter and have really worked on a lot of things with Ben over the years. So I respect your entrepreneurial spirit and your creative mind. Welcome to the podcast.

Ben Eng:

Thanks, Brandon. It's great to be here. And of course, you know, we share the same passion for West Virginia as both you and I both grew up here in Huntington and want to see West Virginia just transform into a really, really prosperous place. So I feel like we're always in the same

Brandon Dennison:

We end up in the same rooms.

Ben Eng:

Yeah, we're in the same rooms in the same circles, because we all just want to see what's within your reach its greatest potential.

Brandon Dennison:

So I like to hear the long version. You're here a professor, head of the iCenter at Marshall University. How did you get here and give us the long version starting with where you grew up and the experiences that led you to where you are today?

Ben Eng:

Yeah, yeah, it is kind of a long version, but hopefully not a boring version. I think it's pretty interesting. I've always thought it was because it's not really about me, it's about my mom and dad. So my mom and dad, they were from China, and they immigrated here to — actually they immigrated to Canada first — and it's really interesting. So like when they grew up in China, they grew up in a really impoverished village. And you know, my mom and dad didn't have any education whatsoever. My dad didn't go to high school, my mom had high school, that was it. But no college or anything...

Brandon Dennison:

Could they read and write?

Ben Eng:

Yeah, they could read and write, and that was about it. And the village to them, the United States represented the land of opportunity to them. So that like not just to them, but the entire village. So the village, they pulled up all their money, every single dollar they had, and sent a group of young Chinese kids from that village to America so they can make money and send it back over to China. So my mom and dad were a part of that group. And they didn't, they had like no supervision at all. They literally just sent the kids over a bunch of teenagers. And so they kind of like raised themselves as group of people. And they actually didn't go to the United States. They emigrated to Canada because at the time it was easier immigration wise to get into Canada than it was United States. So what ended up happening is they started in Toronto, and my dad was a you know, they they did the only thing they could — because they didn't have education. They couldn't speak the language — which was cook Chinese food. So my dad was working at a at a restaurant down there. And this was the most random thing ever. The mayor of Huntington was on vacation in Toronto or happen to be in Toronto for some reason. His name was Harold Frankel. You know, like the mayor way back in the day, since like, 70s. Yes, yes. 70s and happened to go into the restaurant. My dad was working out and was like, 'Hey, this food is pretty good!" Harold Frankel, the mayor was building a hotel in Huntington at the time when he was mayor, and it was like this really awesome hotel. And it was a restaurant. It was actually a Hawaiian-themed restaurant, which is really cool. It was called the Makiki. Club. And it was like, it ended up being the place to be, but he needed a he needed to, you know, a chef. So he got my dad to come down to Huntington, West Virginia to live, to run this restaurant, the Makiki Club. And because it ended up being this really kind of like, awesome place to be, eventually what ended up happening was after the mayor left his term in office, you know, the restaurant became something else or whatever. And my dad, you know, I guess had become known in the community because of the Makiki Club, he started his own restaurant called Ming's Restaurant. And so Ming's restaurant, you know, that's my dad's name, then that's around the time that I was born. I was like, I can't remember the Mickey Mickey club a little bit. But that was like, you know, right when I was born, I really remember Ming's and Ming's was supported by all the people in Huntington, you know, like, they all went to go get their first egg roll there, because at the time, it was like, kind of like exotic food, even though it's weird to say now because it's like a Panda Express everywhere. It's Chinese. It wasn't the first one. There were definitely others, but I think it was...

Brandon Dennison:

It was the one downtown.

Ben Eng:

Yes, it was the most prominent one and the one that really kind of like, you know, when Chinese food became a thing, and United States kind of like rode that wave, you know, so it was definitely like, it was it wasn't the first one because there were others, but it was the most, I guess, like iconic one, I guess at the time. So you know, I met so many great people from Huntington through there, and they supported the restaurant and because of that, I remember my mom and dad would send money back in envelopes, which was probably illegal, I think, but like literally sent cash back to that village. And this was all you know, this is 30 years, 40 years after they'd lived in the village, they would do that every month. And I was like, "Oh my gosh, is actually going to get there?" And they're like, "We don't know, but it's like our duty to do that, because they're like, you know, they invested in us, they believed in us. So we're gonna keep sending that money back every month." And just like, cash over there. I thought I always thought that was like, kind of cool that they would do that. But the other thing I really noticed as I was growing up was how the people of Huntington supported my mom or dad's restaurant, and if they hadn't done that, I wouldn't have been able to get the education that I got. And because of that, you know, as I got older, that's always been in the back of my mind, like, well, how do I, how do we pay it back as a family? Like, how do we pay this back to Huntington? And the answer is, you can't pay people back, you can only pay people forward for something like of that magnitude. So that's sort of why I got into entrepreneurship and education was because well, you know, Huntington allowed my parents small business to pay for my education so I can have a better life. You know, can I do the same for families in Huntington so that way, they can start businesses and provide a better life for their kids? So I really took a generational look at it, the work that you do to like, reverse generational poverty, it's like, to me, that makes total sense. It's like, I think, to reverse generational poverty, we need to combat that with generational prosperity. And education is a long term thing, you know, you don't just get smart overnight, like it, sometimes it requires this, you know, you just keep pounding at the stone, and really just like chipping away, chipping away a little at a time. Every class, every student, you know, every chapter, it seems like it's overnight, it's not but like you hit it's like, it's almost as if you hit a button, "Wow, oh my gosh, like the students know what they're doing now." And they're like, prepared to start a business and do great things. And, and I guess that's what I've seen as a professor is a lot of these students have like, seemingly overnight, but it wasn't, like become all these like, awesome, like young professionals now. So I'm really hopeful for the future, but even more hopeful for like future generations. So that's the long story.

Brandon Dennison:

So your parents were entrepreneurs?

Ben Eng:

Yes.

Brandon Dennison:

Growing up, like, did you have an interest in business and entrepreneurship from a really young age?

Ben Eng:

I did, I just didn't know it, like, so I wouldn't have been able to even understand the word entrepreneurship back then. But like, I remember, one thing that this has always had kind of how I teach my students about business, or like, even just like the idea of marketing or businesses. So when I was a kid in the restaurant that my parents had, it was like, just like this really, it's in the Frederick hotel for the people that are that are from around here. And it's got this really awesome door. It's like this huge wooden door like this massive, massive door almost looks like a castle door. And the wood is like this thick, you know, it's like massive. And whenever somebody opens the door, it like creaks. It's like "meeeeeerrrrr." And then and then it hits the door jamb, and it hits the door jamb twice, it goes "bump, bump." And so it goes like every time a customer come in, or borrow money for a bill, no need for about. And then my mom, the other sound that I remember, my mom would get up and she'd always say "People, people!" and she'd spring into action, because that meant like, there's customers. So you know, it's your "Meeeeeerrrrr. Bump, bump. 'People, people!'" And that was like, the sign of like, a potential customer. And I just remember, as a little kid, I was like, how do we keep making that sound happen as often as possible? And that's probably the heart of like marketing and heart of entrepreneurship and part of business is like, how can we serve our customers, give them great experiences so that way, they keep coming back so we can keep hearing that sound? So, you know, I didn't know what that was called back then. But I just knew that it was like, you know, something that was really interesting. And I always constantly thought about even back then.

Brandon Dennison:

So you spent a lot of time in the restaurant. And were you like employee number one?

Ben Eng:

Oh, yeah. I mean, like, you're, it's like...

Brandon Dennison:

Whatever was needed, as assignments, as...

Ben Eng:

It's like a doctor being on call, you know, like, it's just like, whenever the family needs you, you're there, you know, and, and I actually never minded it. I've always liked it. So I mean, I guess just like growing up in the environment, you know, just constantly, I like helping people. I don't know, it's like, always been a big thing for me, I just always liked. I always liked the expression that people got, whenever I helped them. They'd be like, happy that I helped them. They're like, you know, it's like, so I don't know, it's maybe that's part of growing up in an environment like that, but it's just always been part of who I am. So I think the first thing I ever did was we folded napkins, like that was a thing. So that way, like people had their silverware. Like as a kid, I remember doing that, like folding egg rolls. And then as I got older became a busboy. And then as I got more older, help behind the bar, created the menu, learned the register — all these like amazing lessons that you just kind of learned through experience. And it's funny being on the education side of things, because, you know, we teach business, but we don't necessarily teach that part of business. You know, we like teach like business strategies and concepts, but all these like things, you know, that you sort of only get by doing. I think that's the part where hopefully the education of the future for business education, it's like experiential, and it really becomes like a bridge between like theory and application, you know, we really want to make sure that people are getting that kind of experience.

Brandon Dennison:

That's where a lot of the joy have businesses, right? Just those little moments?

Ben Eng:

Yeah,

Brandon Dennison:

In between meetings or in between customers. It's both. It's like the joy and the frustration, but it's the reality of it. You know, it's like you get joy out of it, you also get stressed out of it. But that's like, I think the stuff that it's hard to teach that in a PowerPoint and you really just kind of have to, like do it, to understand it and to like, handle it and to enjoy it and to be frustrated by it. But yeah. I was gonna ask about... So there's the joys, the flexibilities, the excitement of entrepreneurship had to have been the stresses the anxieties, like, did your parents let you in on the finances? I'm sure some months with a restaurant go better than other months margins for restaurants are pretty narrow. Yeah, that was the most educational part about my childhood. I still remember my mom, like everyone remembers Ming's as like this, like iconic place. But when I was living through it, I never actually felt it was like iconic at all. It was just always like, you know, this thing, we had to work as a family like really, really hard at and some months we're like awesome, like, it's funny, like in the restaurant business, like when you're doing well, that means there's a lot of customers coming in. But that means you're also working as hard as you could possibly work. So I'd see my parents just exhausted on those days when things were going quote unquote, well, right. But then the other side of that is like when things aren't going well, which means customers aren't coming in those truly are like, scary, scary times because you don't know how you're going to pay rent, or how you're going to pay your mortgage, how you're going to put food on the table. So there there are these like really highs and lows. And I do remember like my mom and dad, not so much my dad, but definitely my mom like sobbing herself to sleep some nights because it's so difficult. And it's like tattooed in my brain. And that's a huge motivator for me, because now and again, I think they never had the education of like the business education of like, well, how do we do this in a smarter, less risky way, but potentially still have the reward of it? Like how can we de-risk things? And that's like a big part of what we teach. Now, of course, it's design thinking which, you know, Brandon, I know we've, we've talked so much about, we didn't my mom and dad never had that tool, that tool, that education to even know that there were ways that you can de-risk things and make you know, of course, like business never, you can never like completely eliminate risk. It's part of the nature of business. But you can do things in a smarter way, in a less risky way to be able to succeed and they just didn't know that. So every day I kind of felt like when we're growing up, we were kind of like always on like the razor's edge, you know, and again, this was for a successful restaurant. Probably because you were on the razor's edge.

Ben Eng:

Yeah, so I love now that looking kind of at it now from from the perspective of like, the educator of like, it can help people learn things that my parents never had so that way they don't have to go through the same stresses. Of course, again, can't eliminate all of it, but you do the best you can with more information and knowledge.

Brandon Dennison:

So outside the restaurant, well what was it like growing up in Huntington, Southern West Virginia? I love that and this may not like probably be the most PC thing to say but my dad my dad is funny because like, you know, I don't necessarily look like a West Virginian. A stereotypical West Virginian.

Ben Eng:

I don't look like your stereotypical West Virginian.

Brandon Dennison:

But you were born and raised West Virginian

Ben Eng:

But I still I sure sound like right so like the minute you like, you know, you still have the camera if this is if people are just tuning into the pod audio wise, it's like this guy's definitely West Virginian. But, you know, you turned on it's like, ah, interesting, you know, but I've always loved it. I've always loved being like, the, you know, not stereotypical West Virginian. And to the point that my dad, he actually called me he had a nickname from again, this is probably not the most PC thing. He was always "the Chinese hillbilly." That's what he called me because he has an accent, you know, it's like, he's like, "the Chinese hilla-billy." That's what he called me. And like, it was so funny.

Brandon Dennison:

The name of your autobiography for sure. "The Chinese Hillbilly." But yeah, so I don't know. I've just always embraced it. I've always liked it. And the people of Huntington were always just so amazing to like us to Ming's Restaurant and to us as a family, even to this day. I mean, like, that's why I came back to Marshall was because it was about the people of Huntington, West Virginia, like how can we like do things back for them? Because they were just awesome. And, you know, growing up, you know, when I went to school, I had just great friends who were supportive of, of Ming's and all the things we were doing. I just had the most wonderful friends and the people around here. So yeah, it's a big motivator for you know, who I am today is just the experiences I had growing up with the community. My dad's rule is, "It's not okay for like other people outside the region to call us hillbillies. But if we choose to call ourselves hillbillies, right, we're allowed to do that. Right?" Yeah. It's probably not the most PC term. But yeah, I think, you know, to me, there was always power in it, because it was like, it's... We can define ourselves.

Ben Eng:

We can define ourselves, you know, and so I definitely think it's like if somebody's using it pejoratively. I know it, I'm like, okay, well...

Brandon Dennison:

You can tell the difference.

Ben Eng:

Oh, yeah. It's like this person thinks I'm like an idiot because I have an accent or whatever. But generally speaking, like if we're obviously calling about ourselves, it's a term of endearment. And it's like, you know, this is who we are.

Brandon Dennison:

We want to be unique, the pieces, parts of ourselves that are unique and distinctive. We don't want to lose that.

Ben Eng:

Exactly, exactly. Yeah, differences don't always have to be bad. In fact, a lot of times you're good. It's just like you wear it as a source of pride? Or do you wear it is a source of shame? And to me, it was always something I was always proud to be the Chinese hillbilly.

Brandon Dennison:

Did you go to Marshall?

Ben Eng:

Yeah, so I've been to, I've lived in three different time zones. But obviously most of my time here. I got my undergrad at James Madison. I was always always going to be a lawyer, political science major with a business minor. So I always kind of knew in the back of my mind, I was like, this may play out. Then I got my MBA at Marshall. And then I got my PhD in marketing at Southern Illinois because we, at the time, we didn't have a doctorate program here we do now at Marshall, but we didn't back then. So I had to go to Carbondale, Illinois to do that.

Brandon Dennison:

Do you always know you'd end up back here?

Ben Eng:

Yeah, I did. I guess there were parts of my life, like growing up as a teenager, I think, you know, you go through this period of like, so the biggest evolution, I guess, I think that happened to me was sort of like what motivated me and I hear this a lot with like teenagers and like people that are emerging, like college students, like they're kind of told to, like, follow your passion, which I think is a good start, you know. You end up doing something you want to do, because you love it and it's interesting to you. And I think that's a good way to start. But what ends up happening is like, it can be a selfish objective as well, if like, all you do is like, do something you're passionate about. It's not wrong, I just think it's incomplete. I think it's like you kind of have to do something you're passionate about. But then you also have to pair that with something that actually helps people. And then like, if you can put those two together, now you got something, right. Because like, now you become like valuable, because you're good at something you love doing. But then you also do something that matters to other people, which means it has inherent value. You know, if you do something that only you love, and doesn't really help other people, then I don't know if it has any value. So anyways, early on in my 20s I was like, I got to do the job that I'm passionate about. I love movies. I love TV. So I actually moved to LA worked in the talent agency world.

Brandon Dennison:

That's the third time zone. I was gonna ask.

Ben Eng:

So yeah, so I worked at a talent agencies in LA we represented actors, writers, directors, Ashley [Stinnett], you know, maybe we should have represented him back in the day.

Brandon Dennison:

[Ashley], that's our communications coordinator.

Ben Eng:

The communications coordinator at Coalfield slash actor. Yeah, thespian. I think back then I was like, well, I'm gonna like, go into movies and go into film and TV because I love watching movies and TV. And so I did that for a long time. And as I got older, I kind of was thinking, I was like, man, is there a way to help more people. And I always had, in the back of my mind, this idea of like, coming back home to West Virginia to help out taking the knowledge that I've learned in the talent agency world, and bringing it back, like not necessarily in that field specifically, but just that business acumen that, that, you know, just the learning from that big city environment, bringing it back to West Virginia and Huntington to see what we could do with it down here. And it just so happened — this is a crazy story — but we represented the writer of, one of the writers of "We Are Marshall," the movie "We Are Marshall," at the agency I worked at, so I went to the premiere of it in LA and met President Kopp there who was president of Marshall. So he's actually had a he passed away a couple years ago. We got to talking at the afterparty. And he didn't I didn't know him, he didn't know me. And he was like, and we started talking. He's like, "Man, you should really come back to West Virginia, and come back to Marshall and get your MBA." And I was like, huh, that would be pretty wild to move back. I'd been living in LA for 10 years at that point, it was my pretty much my entire 20s. And I was like, but you know what, my parents had always wanted me to come back, and I just had this thing in the back of my mind. It's like, you know, like, how can I make a bigger impact? Is it, can it be something bigger than just my passion, but it can be something that passionate helps other people? So I started thinking about it when he brought it up, although it wasn't as fully fleshed out, as I can tell you about it now in hindsight, but he planted a seed. And so I was like, you know what, I'm going to talk to my parents about it. And my once my parents heard that I was like, thinking about coming back and to get more education...

Brandon Dennison:

They were going to pay for your ticket, right?

Ben Eng:

They literally started, we knew the dean of the college business at the time. It was, it was Dr. John Kim. And then we knew some other people and they were like, "Well, we've already lined up a GA for you, like you're moving back home, you're living back home" and all this stuff. I was like, oh my gosh, I guess we're doing it. And it was an interesting pivot in my life, because it was like, things were going well. I loved my time in LA. I had so many friends there and it was a great career. But for some reason, I just knew it was the right gamble and it was the right risk to do it to like, lead to something bigger and more meaningful. So I did it. I moved back, became a student again, an MBA student and from there just really got embedded in more in the Marshall community because even though I was a Huntington person, I was never necessarily a Marshall person. I was Marshall sports person. I loved Marshall sports, but I didn't necessarily know like as a student what it was like there, but it just got to be I just got such great advice from the professors here and like President Kopp. Um, at the time, his Chief of Staff Bill Bissett was like, always supportive of all the things I was trying to do as a student and we just did all these things

that made me think:

What if I did this for a living, you know, what if I did this?

Brandon Dennison:

To be part of the community that serves others.

Ben Eng:

I was like, maybe Marshall could help transform West Virginia through business or something, you know, like, maybe I could do something like that. And one of the professors like, well, you should be if you want to, like do this and actually make some money out of it. Like you probably need to get a PhD and you can be a professor and I was like, okay, how do I do that? And he was like, "Well, you know, you apply for it." Does Marshall have a program? "No." So it's like, it was like, what's the closest one? They're like "UK [University of Kentucky]." I was like, okay, I'll apply to UK. Didn't get in the UK. It's like, what's the next closest one? Southern Illinois. Okay, I guess I'm going to Southern Illinois. So that's how I ended up there. It was the next closest PhD school that accepted me basically. Oklahoma State also accepted me. But again that was a lot farther away.

Brandon Dennison:

When I hear business school PhD, I think probably pretty challenging program. Yeah, it's pretty hard. Most PhD programs are, they only accept like two or three students a year and they usually only accept people every two years. Wow.

Ben Eng:

So it's really difficult. You really have to study hard for, they've got like this, it's like an LSAT for business school it's called the GMAT. So you have to, like, study really hard and do well on that actually never did all that well on it. I did just good enough to reach the minimum requirement. But what I think they liked about me was like my agency experience that I worked with, they thought that was kind of cool. They were like, wow, like, he's marketing human people, like as a brand. That's kind of neat, like celebrities and all that. And then I think they just [admired] my time at Marshall. Like, President Kopp ended up writing me a letter of recommendation. It's like, what is this kid doing down there? And I've just done so much so many things as a student that went above and beyond what a student typically does as an MBA student that I think they're like, you know, maybe this guy doesn't have like, like, a perfect score on the standardized exams, but at the same time, like, you know, he probably will work pretty hard at it and...

Brandon Dennison:

The commitment.

Ben Eng:

Yeah, quite committed to it. And I think they knew why, like, I was really on a mission to like, get my PhD and, and teach specifically at Marshall, like, I really didn't know if the job would be there. Like I would get my PhD and then I was hoping there'd be a job opening at Marshall, I didn't know because sometimes you don't know when people are gonna retire when they're adding new positions. But that was always the goal. At some point. Like, whenever there was a job opening at Marshall, I would come back drop everything, no matter where I was at, to go teach at Marshall. And I, this is kind of a joke, I tell all my students is like, you know, if Harvard came knocking on the door, today, right now, they zoomed in right now and they offered me 10 times the salary that I'm making, I would say no in a heartbeat and it would be the easiest decision. Like I would not even think twice about it.

Brandon Dennison:

Folks who are listening who might not be as familiar like with Southern West Virginia, why is Marshall so important to the future of southern West Virginia? The perspective I have is, is the great enablers of life are education and entrepreneurship. To me, like everything, and again, it's you shared the story of how I was raised. I mean, that's what changed my mom and dad's life, you know, was, and they didn't have that necessarily education, but entrepreneurship. And I know, if they had both, it would have been so much easier for them. So when I think about like, what the problems that West Virginia is afflicted with, you know, like generational poverty, it's, you know, how do we reverse that cycle of generational poverty? It's such a, such a difficult thing, but I think the answers to that are entrepreneurship and education. Really, it really just comes down to those two pillars. And to me, I, I know, it can work, because I saw my parents do it. And, you know, I never have gone back to the village in China. My parents actually never wanted me to go back there. They never want me to see it. Really?

Ben Eng:

Yeah, they've never wanted me to see it. And I know, we went back to Hong Kong and to China, but they never actually took me back to their village because they were like, it's that bad. So whatever it is, like, they won't even let me see it. I'm now that I'm older, maybe they would. But back when I was a kid, they would never do it.

Brandon Dennison:

And they did not want to go back themselves?

Ben Eng:

They went back multiple times themselves. Yeah. But not a whole whole lot. But you know, because they're always busy with the restaurant. But they went back a number of times, but they just didn't want me to see it. But I do think that like the money that they sent back, even helped, hopefully help their village, you know. So like, I saw what entrepreneurship and education did for my family. But then I also saw that they were sending lots of cash back over there and, and hopefully it helped that village achieve what they were trying to achieve over there too. So I think it's absolutely vital and critical. And I don't know, to be honest, I don't know if there's any other way to do it. I mean, and that's debatable, of course, I'm sure there's all sorts of debates on how do you reverse generational poverty. But to me, that's the best way and again, I'm biased. But yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

Can we go back to the talent agency?

Ben Eng:

Yeah. Yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

What is? Just tell me more about that. Like, and when you say celebrities, I mean, who are they people we would recognize?

Ben Eng:

Yeah, when I moved out to LA, I didn't really, I was having like a 20-year-old, 22-year-old midlife crisis, because again, I thought I was going to be a lawyer. Didn't end up being a lawyer. And I actually went to Penn State's law school for a year then took a leave of absence to move out just to like, discover myself or whatever, because I was just like, what am I going to do now that I see what law is all about? Is this really what I want to do? I don't think so. What am I going to do? And one of my buddies who's from West Virginia, we're from Huntington, we went to high school together, he moved out he was moving out to LA anyways, because he wanted to be an actor. He was like, "Hey, do you want to get with me?" I was like, "I guess" because I'm like, like, what else am I gonna do? I literally had no idea what I was gonna do. So I saved up. I got like a part time job here in West Virginia, saved up three grand and packed up all of my stuff into a car and he packed up all this stuff into his car and we drove out to LA. I was thinking it was gonna be like, I don't know, like a two-month trip that I'd blow $3,000 and like come back home. But I ended up, like the first job, I think it was a Banana Republic, you know, just kind of like, retail job. And then I coached soccer on the weekends and, like, did that and eventually, you know, I was like, kind of like somehow making it to pay rent for the first couple of months there. And then eventually, my buddy who wanted to be an actor was like, "Hey, you know, you ought to think about, like, applying for like, agencies and managers that represent actors. And that helped me get auditions, basically." And I was like, you know what, that's kind of interesting. You know, I have like, kind of a business background, I have this one year of law school, maybe, maybe that will like, that works or something. So I applied all over town, every single one. There was like a book in LA of all the agencies and all the managers in LA, and I literally emailed, or faxed or mailed or hand-delivered one to every single one. And like, hardly anyone called me. And except for this one tiny little agency called The House of Representatives has nothing to do with, like government, it was just called, they represented actors. They remember the interview, they're like, "Hey, you know, do you want to, like, what do you know about show business?" I was like, "I love movies. I watch movies. That's the honest answer, like, I don't know, I was like, but I'll work really, really hard. And, you know, like, I will work a tremendous amount for, you know, learning." And, and I guess it convinced them and they hired me, and they were awesome. They taught me a lot about show business. And that place was small. So they they had character actors, like nobody that you would, the names aren't like superstar names, but you'd be like, I recognize the face. So you'd be like, I see that guy everywhere. It's like, it'd be like one of those places. So I did that for three years, and then got hired at a bigger agency that was one of the big three, it's called United Talent Agency. And if, if you Wikipedia right now, people at home, they have basically three or four agencies represent all the stars that you know, and they were one of those. So there's just a number of stars that they represent, just so many. But yeah, so I worked there for another four years at the bigger agency called UTA. And I don't know if they still are, it's been a long time support there. But at the time, they were like big into comedy. So they had all the Judd Apatow group, you know, like Judd Apatow's movies have like Seth Rogen and Michael Cera. So at the time, they had like this big pipeline into "Saturday Night Live," and all the comedic type actors, so they had tons of tons of them. But those are the some names are kind of remember that pop off my head, I'm gonna get I don't know if they're still there. But they weren't the time.

Brandon Dennison:

That's cool. So we're coming down to the end here. Very interesting Appalachian experience, and then very interesting experiences outside of Appalachia. So in your time, what are the biggest things that you've seen change here in Appalachia? And what are the some big things that you still hope to see change? I think the biggest change that I've seen is there is this like, new energy in the last, like, probably four or five years for entrepreneurship and business. Like I can see that like, I think back, you know, originally, when I grew up, it was like there was always this debate between like, are you pro-coal, or it was almost like, the coal company, or like the unions. And then that was like, you're, you're on one side or the other and that decided, defined if you were like, almost like a Republican or Democrat was based on like, if you were, like, pro the coal company, or pro the union company, then there was like, no other talks about any other industry session. That was it. That was it. And like, I always wondered, you know, what, if there were like, other industries as well, you know, that we could potentially go into. So you know, I guess, like, just the idea of like, diversified economy, and I just see that, like, there's all these potential new things that that we could be doing, you know, and I guess, you know, let's look at the change in the coalfields, like the sign, you know, just kind of like the heart of what you guys do. And I think it really strikes a chord in me to know that there's this future where we can do so many things, and you know, what will those things be? And I feel like we're in a position now, where everyone is interested in exploring all these other types of industries, like, you know, is tech in our future? Is tourism in our future? Is healthcare in our future? I think it's yes to all of these. We're more than just one thing.

Ben Eng:

Yeah, and I think it's like, you know, you always, it's always good to be good at a thing, but it's even better if you're good at multiple things. And that's how I think really, things can grow like diversity of thought. So I think that's the biggest change that I've seen is just sort of like this, this sort of change into like, potentially a diversified economy, and one in which like innovation, and entrepreneurship, which I think have always been scary to people in the past. And again, like I, you know, like, I understand what you're scared, I mean, I very much understand it. But there's a way to like to do it in a smart way where it derisks it to a certain degree, and to take shots is like, it's something that is, is we can teach people how to take shots, to achieve great things. And I think these are discussions that I've been hearing a lot, a lot of times with, you will have these discussions. It just gives me amazing hope because I don't know if those same discussions would have been around like, you know, 10 years ago or 20 years ago.

Brandon Dennison:

It's awesome.

Ben Eng:

Yeah.

Brandon Dennison:

Well, Professor Ben Eng, thanks for your passion for everything you do for our community. I know you're in it for the long haul. You've already done so much. And there's more to come.

Ben Eng:

Yeah, man. I appreciate being on here. Thanks so much.

Unknown:

All right.

Ben Eng:

All right.

Brandon Intro:

"Change in the Coalfields" is a podcast created by Coalfield Development in the hills and hollers of West Virginia. This episode was hosted by Brandon Dennison, and produced and edited by JJN Multimedia. Become a part of our mission to rebuild the Appalachian economy by going to our website at coalfield-development.org to make a donation. You can email us anytime at info @ coalfield-development.org and subscribe to our newsletter for more information on the podcast. You can follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn by searching Coalfield Development. Check back soon for more episodes.