Milwaukee at a crossroads

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Chris Crawley’s company, Think Innovative Media, is nine years old and expects to have revenues of $1 million to $2 million this year.
Even so, Crawley describes his business as, "fragile."
"I’m a first generation business owner," said Crawley, president and chief executive officer of Think Innovative Media. "I’m not trained in business. I’m on a shoestring budget."
Crawley, 44, has a communications degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is pursing a masters of business administration degree from Cardinal Stritch University to obtain the business training he hopes will make his company even more successful.
However, Crawley said it is harder for African-American business owners like himself to attract investors and establish relationships with banks. Additional capital would help Crawley grow his company.
"That’s been my biggest challenge since I’ve been in business – financing," he said. "I don’t have uncles and aunts with deep pockets. I’m not part of the good old boy network."
Think Innovative Media will be the first minority-owned business participating in The Milwaukee Collaborative, a concept created by former Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. vice president Alton Bathrick.
The collaborative seeks to unite small, minority-owned businesses with larger companies joint ventures. The minority-owned business is the majority shareholder in the joint venture. The larger company acts as a mentor and investor, providing financial resources, additional capacity and business contacts to allow the minority-owned business to take part in larger projects and grow.
Crawley said he is considering a partnership in The Milwaukee Collaborative with one of eight companies his business already works with.
Think Innovative Media provides multimedia training, consulting and production services for sales, marketing, training and education applications. The company’s developers, designers, artists and programmers create computer-based communication products, including Web sites and CD-ROMs.
The company creates communication products that are visual, audible and interactive. That combination increases the rate of retention for the information Think Innovative Media’s customers are trying to relay, Crawley said.
"The thing I love most about our industry is it’s all about packaging information in a way people can absorb it better," he said.
Think Innovative Media recently moved from the Historic Third Ward to The Hide House, the former Greenebaum Tannery complex located at 2625 S. Greenley St. in the Bay View neighborhood and owned by Bathrick.
"Our space in the Third Ward was being remodeled, and our rent was going to go sky high," Crawley said.
Bathrick has been an ardent supporter of Think Innovative Media, Crawley said.
"Al Bathrick has become my best friend," he said. "He’s become a real brother to me. He’s helped me identify mechanisms to get to the next level. He’s started to get me access to the good old boy network. He’s been where I want to go. He’s brought a lot to me that I wouldn’t have been able to get. He’s helping me with connections. He’s been a cheerleader, a fan. He’s been a motivator."
The Milwaukee Collaborative seeks to grow businesses in the city’s economically depressed neighborhoods where many minorities struggle to find job opportunities nearby.
"To create true wealth in minority neighborhoods and minority communities, you’ve got to build minority businesses," Crawley said.
Milwaukee must eliminate the racial segregation that is plaguing the community, Crawley said, and businesses in the metro area must hire more minorities, or the city’s economy will lag behind others in the nation. Too many talented minorities are leaving Milwaukee for jobs in cities in the South and on the East Coast because they cannot find jobs here, he said. That brain drain must be stopped for the sake of the community’s future, he said.
"The city is at a crossroads," Crawley said. "The city can move into the new millennium as a diverse, tolerant community that attracts high-tech workers or not. The Milwaukee Collaborative, should the city embrace it, is one of the tools that will help put Milwaukee back on the map. This Milwaukee Collaborative has the legs to take us so far if we embrace it."
Despite Milwaukee’s dubious distinction as one of the most segregated cities in the nation, Crawley said he believes the local business community can help eliminate that stigma and transform the city into a magnet for diverse, young talent.
"If I didn’t think it could happen, I might as well pack up and leave," he said. "For minority businesses, we don’t have a chance unless this city changes to embrace diversity."
June 25, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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