Terry Travis seems to have popped up out of nowhere over the past year. Now, he is everywhere.
One night before the November 2006 elections, he represents Cleveland’s young professionals in front of Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Sherrod Brown and Ted Strickland at a House of Blues campaign fund-raiser. “Technology will save Cleveland,” he tells the audience. “For so long we have had a manufacturing mentality here, and we need a new technology mentality.
"Technology is the No. 3 industry in Cleveland,” he adds. “And we need to nurture it.”
Another day in October, Travis, 34, is moderating “Techonomic Talk: Voices of the Future,” a public panel with city, university and civic leaders to discuss technology as a key driver of economic change.
“When you do business with or visit technology-sector companies, they don’t care what color you are,” Travis chimes in during dialogue.
A Friday night finds him — dressed, as usual, in a stylish suit and tie — presiding over a chic downtown mixer to introduce area media to a crowd of multicultural, tech-savvy young professionals. Travis is hoping to create a dialogue with members of the press in response to the mainstream media’s lack of coverage of minority communities.
“I don’t like to call them young professionals,” Travis says of the 250 or so folks who crowd Sunset Lounge for free cocktails and snacks for the “Mass Media” event. The term is too limiting, he says, preferring “emerging leaders.” And right now, Travis, who founded and owns Cleveland365.com, is their Steve Jobs, with an approach that’s bent on revolution.
“Too often events in Cleveland are either a ‘black thing’ or a ‘white thing,’ a ‘young-professionals thing’ or an ‘older, established thing,’ ” Travis says. “If we want to be successful and tap all of the region’s talent, we’ve got to change our attitudes about our differences, grow up and mature,” he adds.
On a recent Tuesday morning, he is working on changing attitudes and perceptions as he crosses downtown in his Ford Taurus sedan to finalize plans for his company’s new satellite office in the glass room at the center of Star Plaza in the Theater District. The E-Tech Hatchery, part fishbowl, part incubator, is the brainchild of Cleveland tech czar Michael DeAloia. The incubator opened in May 2006 and provides space and visibility to startup technology businesses for six months at a time.
“It makes sense for us to be in the epicenter of technology,” Travis says, “right near the Idea Center, which is the hub in Northeast Ohio, with other tech companies.”
Travis launched Cleveland365.com in 2005 as a forum and gathering place to highlight minority issues, entrepreneurial development, social activities and dialogue. Since that time, it has grown and expanded into an all-inclusive movement for anyone who is young at heart and has a passion to bring Northeast Ohio’s diverse communities of professionals together to increase economic development, improve downtown and create opportunities for technology sector growth.
As partygoers stream into the Mass Media event at Sunset Lounge, Travis reclines on what he says is the future of office computing. The stylish leather “mental chair” looks exactly like a dental chair but holds four computer screens made specifically for the busy professional who wants to multitask in comfort.
The chair’s inventor, Strongsville entrepreneur Doug O’Bryon, one of a few whites in the crowd, stands nearby and gushes about the opportunity to showcase his new product. He and Travis met only a few weeks earlier at another networking affair.
As a result, O’Bryon’s chair is on display at the Idea Center, and he is in discussions for future expansion.
“That is what we are all about. We are engaging cross-culturally,” Travis says. “We are encouraging communication.”
Travis’ daily motivation comes from a deep conviction instilled by his great-grandmother when he was growing up in Cleveland’s Forest Hills neighborhood. “She was a teacher, and she always told me that if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got,” he recalls.
The Cleveland Foundation’s Civic Innovation Lab liked his ideas and commitment so much, it awarded him $17,000 in 2004 and $13,000 in 2006 for the development of Cleveland365.com. He says the site receives 15 million page views each month.
Apparently, a printing press is no longer needed to start a revolution. Travis says he is working on a number of technology-oriented, entrepreneurial initiatives to further his message about the need for collaboration and dialogue across cultures.
He plans to launch Clevelandcalendar.com, an all-inclusive Northeast Ohio calendar that will serve as a central database for all events all the time.
Travis also plans another “Professionals in the City” event March 28, and on a quarterly basis, as a follow-up to the hugely successful soiree that he sponsored along with the Civic Innovation Lab in July 2006 at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. More than 1,000 guests representing 40 diverse organizations attended the free event with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
As a result of that gathering, Travis, along with a dozen other young professionals, have created Cleveland ConneXion, a platform for active, civic-minded, Gen-X professionals. The group, with one or two representatives from each of 26 young professional organizations, provides a unified voice for Cleveland’s “emerging leader” community.
“It’s not another group, we have enough groups,” Travis says. “We are simply serving as a resource for the public-private sector while advocating the needs and concerns of young professionals.” Plans call for Cleveland ConneXion to develop a white paper about what living in Cleveland looks like now as well as what the future might hold.
Back to the daily grind, Travis emerges at 2 p.m. from his Warehouse District office on a warm November Wednesday. He is without his suit coat and in a hungry rush to get some food as he trots down to the restaurant a block north.
“Where do I know you from?” asks the waiter at Waterstreet Grill. It is a question Travis gets a lot these days. As the two try to figure it out, the waiter, Todd, remembers, “Aha, I saw you speak at the Techonomics seminar a few weeks ago.”
“Sure,” replies Travis, and the two get reacquainted and exchange business cards. Then, one of the mayor’s staffers stops over to kibitz. On the way out, Travis shakes hands with another contact. On the street, the folks know him as he walks back to his main office on West Ninth Street.
“That is how it happens,” Travis says. “I would have never known that waiter-guy in a million years, but now we have a connection because he remembered me from the Techonomics event.
“It truly is conversation that breaks down cultural and geographic barriers that seem to bog us down in Cleveland.”
A new crop of Cleveland cheerleaders has emerged on the downtown scene.
With seemingly boundless energy, a little bravado and media-savvy locutions, this group of civic-minded business folks sits on boards, works on action committees and volunteers their time for myriad local causes. Their rallying cry: Ensuring Cleveland’s future as a great place to live and work.
If you don’t already know their names, you should. Hannah Fritzman, Patrick Manfroni, Terry Travis, Keshia Johnson, Oscar Villarreal and Bethany Hilt.
Each is bent on doing something about the city’s dead downtown, racial and cultural divides and stagnant economic growth. Each is an advocate with a voice and each brings a unique knowledge, skill and ability to the cause.
And all are founding members of Cleveland ConneXion, a new group of young professionals determined to make a difference in improving the region.
Occupation: Account supervisor for Fleishman-Hillard Inc., a public relations firm
Lives: Cleveland’s Detroit/Shoreway neighborhood
Bethany Hilt, a Cincinnati native, moved to Cleveland from Phoenix. At 36, she has called Cleveland home for the past eight years and gushes about the lifestyle and opportunities here for work and pleasure. Buzzing around town in her Volvo S60, Hilt’s speech is peppered with positive talk about regionalism and the achievements of developers Bob Stark and Mitchell Schneider.
Affiliations: Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Lakefront Taskforce Committee, Cleveland Bridge Builders
Economic advice: A lot of things have to happen simultaneously, such as an influx of young professionals and the affordable housing to keep them, the ability to retain attractive employers and the embracing of a regionalism concept.
Pet peeve: Public Square; “I walk across it every day and I am dismayed by the number of
Unique perspective: “I don’t have the benefit, the past knowledge, experience and perhaps disappointments of growing up here.”
Favorite spots: Flying Fig restaurant in Ohio City and Liquid on West Sixth Street, Tremont’s art galleries, especially Atmosphere and the South Side in Tremont
Five-year plan: Possibilities include holding a senior management position with her firm, running her own company or holding a public office. ”I don’t believe these have to be mutually exclusive.“
Occupation: Financial analyst for RMS Management Co., a company owned by the Ratner, Miller and Shafran families. Got his start working his way to executive director of (i)Cleveland, an organization composed of college students and business leaders who work to keep young talent here.
Lives: Downtown in the Gateway District
Patrick Manfroni likes to ride the bus around town instead of pulling his Ford Explorer out of the garage. “It’s just so much easier,” he says. “Plus, I believe in the importance of public transportation.” Manfroni also believes in making downtown streets safe for everyone. Recently he has worked with the Downtown Cleveland Alliance to remove panhandlers and year-round sidewalk residents from Public Square.
Pet peeve: People who say it’s boring here. “Most of them rarely leave the suburbs, hang out at strip malls and dine exclusively at chain restaurants. The only downtown exposure most people get is a once-in-a-while trip for an Indians, Browns or Cavaliers game. It’s just crazy that I know West Siders who have never been to Little Italy and East Siders who have never visited
First on his agenda: Developing the downtown business core
Board commitments: EcoCity Cleveland, Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) at John Carroll University, the Diabetes Association and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance
Favorite spots: Waterstreet Grill on West Ninth Street, Ponte Vecchio on the Superior Viaduct, and the Winking Lizard in the Gateway District
Best fashion advice: “Ask your sisters what to wear.”
Five-year plan: Doing something entrepreneurial — in Cleveland
Occupation: Program coordinator for the Civic Innovation Lab and the Cleveland Executive Fellowship, both programs of the Cleveland Foundation
Lives: Downtown in the Warehouse District
Fritzman, originally from Salem, Ohio, is determined to spread the word to young people to get out of their suburban bliss and explore Cleveland’s neighborhoods.
On the roster: Improving Cleveland by diversifying the pool of young professionals that business and industry rely on for input on civic projects Pet peeve: The establishment has limited sources of feedback from one group: the 20/30 Club. “I’m a member of the 20/30 Club and I love it, but I see them as a silo operating separately from the greater population. It’s mostly a group of white bankers and lawyers from downtown law firms and National City [Bank.] If big business is coming to them for the young professional opinions on development projects, they will get a skewed viewpoint.”
Dream come true: Owning a loft in Downtown Cleveland after graduating from John Carroll University. “When I found out you could do that in Cleveland, my mind was blown. I was 23 and could buy a loft in the downtown of a city. Why would I move to Chicago and rent a 400-square-foot box?”
Favorite spots: La Cave du Vin on Coventry and Luchita’s on West 117th Street
Wheels: Chevrolet Aveo, because it’s great on gas mileage.
Five-year plan: “I hope to have completed a master’s degree.”
Lives: North Olmsted
Oscar Villarreal is on an immigrant’s fast track to the American dream. Born in Mexico and raised in Spain, Villarreal came to Cleveland as an exchange student in 2002. In the short time since, he has immersed himself in Cleveland life, won an international award from Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE) while attending Baldwin-Wallace College and has gone on to start a number of Northeast Ohio-based businesses.
Adopted hometown: “I’ve visited 33 countries, and Cleveland is the only place where people have helped me, shown me and offered me the help that I needed to succeed personally and professionally. I started from zero and had nothing and after five years I am running companies.”
Fluent in: Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese
Five-year plan: Settling professionally in Cleveland and bringing the city back to what it was and should always be: a combination of economic power and social standards. Adopting new markets and ideas that will give it the new wave of growth: innovation.
Where you’ll find him: Johnny’s on Fulton, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Chipotle at Great Northern Mall and Mitchell’s Fish Market
Occupation: Strategic business plan manager, Cleveland Division of Water
Lives: Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood
In 2003, Keshia Johnson founded the Black Singles Network to provide a venue for professional, African-American singles to engage in local activities with the goal of encouraging them to stay here and raise families. In January 2006, the Civic Innovation Lab awarded BSN $15,000 to improve the group’s Web site (www.blacksinglesnetwork.com
) and develop marketing materials. Pet peeve: The divide between East Siders and West Siders. “After moving into the Kamm’s Corners neighborhood when I first came to Cleveland, I was astonished to learn about the city’s geographic and racial divides. I have lived in Atlanta and Dallas, and I found it so unfortunate that the black-white issue was a factor here.”
Passion: Turning people on to Cleveland’s diverse neighborhoods through BSN. “We regularly schedule events at locations all across town including tobogganing in the Metroparks and wine tastings at out-of-the-way establishments.”
Thriving transplant: “I moved here from Dallas, Texas, and my family thought I was crazy, but now they enjoy visiting. They are happy to see how easy it has been for me to get involved and engaged and be a part of the fabric of life here.”
Affiliations: Board member for Lake Erie Council of Girl Scouts and Northeastern Neighborhood Development Corp.