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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“It truly is conversation that breaks down cultural and geographic barriers that seem to bog us down in Cleveland.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.