10 years of TYPros
As Tulsa’s Young Professionals celebrates a decade, officials reflect on the organization’s beginnings and its vibrant future.
TYPros’ “Bring It To Tulsa” campaign brought a Trader Joe’s pop-up store to the Brady Arts District.
Back in the ’90s, a young Evan Tipton and his friends would grab their skateboards and jump on the Super Loop bus.
Their destination? Bartlett Square, right in the middle of downtown’s business core. Why? It was the best place to practice tricks on their boards.
“After work hours and on weekends, we owned the place,” recalls the native Tulsan. “It was a ghost town.”
Even as a preteen, Tipton dreamed of what Tulsa could be if people took the initiative to make things happen.
“My family used to travel a lot, and I would see cities with urban cores that were vibrant and alive, and I remember thinking that Tulsa could be like that, too,” he says. “When we were downtown skateboarding, I would take down phone numbers for these empty places and tell my parents, thinking we could put in restaurants or bars.”
Tipton’s boyhood imaginings of a buzzing downtown Tulsa are manifesting in a dramatic turnaround that is now a decade old. While many factors are at play in that transformation, a critical one has been the influence of Tulsa’s Young Professionals (TYPros), an organization created to keep Tulsa’s best talent at home while attracting young talent from elsewhere.
Today, Tipton, 31, serves as chairman of TYPros, convinced as ever that Tulsa is the place to be for people of all ages, but especially young professionals.
“I knew there was potential for Tulsa to become something great,” says Tipton, producing manager for Scott McCoy Insurance. “I love this city and TYPros shares that love. It is a platform that allows young professionals to make an impact.”
Giving young professionals a voice
Founded 10 years ago this month by the Tulsa Metro Chamber (now Tulsa Regional Chamber), TYPros took off like a rocket with membership rapidly accelerating into the thousands. The organization quickley grew and it became apparent that a paid director would be needed to manage it. Currently, 7,600 members represent a broad spectrum of professions and industries, according to Shagah Zakerion, TYPros executive director.
“Ten years ago, people were unsure about what makes a great city for young professionals,” Zakerion says. “I think what is most exciting about TYPros is that it has become an organization with the ability to create change. We can come up with a concept and execute it. Young people want to see change, and that’s what makes TYPros so motivating and rewarding for them.”
TYPros, which is free to members, is funded through Tulsa’s Future economic development fund and program sponsors. It is organized to appeal to a wide range of interests and give everyone a chance to plug into an area most rewarding for them. No age restrictions are in effect for members, but those interested in serving as TYPros chair, a crew leader or in a board leadership position must be under the age of 40.
TYPros has what are called Work Crews, each with a distinct focus when it comes to bettering the Tulsa community and attracting young people. The Work Crews are Arts & Entertainment, Attraction, Business Development, Government Relations, Diversity, Next Generation Leadership, Sustainability and Urbanists.
Camille Nassar, 25, is the marketing and communications manager at Southern Hills Country Club. She joined TYPros about two and half years ago, seeking to leave her mark in the community. Becoming TYPros’ Crew leader for Arts & Entertainment has become her ticket to do so.
“Being a Crew leader is an incredible and very honorable experience,” she says. “It opens so many doors and excels you as a leader and professional. I enjoy meeting other young professionals and sharing my passion for Tulsa and the arts.”
Former TYPros Executive Director Brian Paschal, now senior vice president of education and workforce at the Chamber, says TYPros’ structure allows it to be responsive and creative when it comes to creating a city that attracts and retains young talent.
“The thing that I love about it is that it’s so nimble,” he says. “It has the ability to take an issue, like urban development, and respond quickly. At the same time, it allows members to be as involved as they want. In your 20s and 30s there is a lot going on, a lot of life changes. So it gives members flexibility.”
Years ago, Paschal was one of those young professionals that city leaders wanted to bring back home. He had been away in Los Angeles for 15 years when he came home and discovered a city on the verge of a renaissance that was being aided by the young and ambitious.
“When I came back, I saw a desire among people to roll up their sleeves and make a difference, and becoming part of that to make change was exciting,” Paschal says.
Making real impacts
In TYPros’ early days, some in the community were a bit skeptical that a group of young guns could accomplish little more than throwing back a few brews and appletinis at local watering holes.
“There was a concern that we would amount to little more than a social club, but as time went on, there was a snowball effect,” Tipton says. “People joined, and we could point to a collection of achievements.”
And while the social function of TYPros is present, it remains an organization geared toward getting things done and providing opportunities to its members. Among TYPros’ most significant recent achievements, Zakerion says, is the central role it played in bringing UBER to Tulsa last year through a campaign called “Bring It To Tulsa.”
“That came about because a member came to us and said, ‘Let’s do this,’ and that was incredibly powerful,” she says. “It really elevated our organization, and in turn, our ability to attract and retain people and create the kind of Tulsa we want to be a part of. With that success, we were like, ‘Whoa! We’re capable of more than we thought.’”
Among other TYPros accomplishments, Paschal points to the Street CReD initiative launched in 2011. Street CReD focuses on redevelopment of dilapidated areas that have the potential to turn into economic gems with a little bit of attention. Street CReD started by promoting redevelopment of the neighborhood near East Sixth Street and South Peoria Avenue, east of downtown. Now known as the Pearl District, the area has been transformed with streetscaping and new, trendy businesses.
“What happened there was we really gave that project a megaphone, and you can see the results,” Paschal says.
Significantly, TYPros also plugs young people into the boards of area nonprofits, arranging internships for participants to learn and provide valuable insight from a more youthful perspective.
“What’s great about that is we’re connecting people with the community,” Zakerion says. “They get the experience of being on a board, and we’ve found that around 60 percent of interns are ultimately asked to join the boards as full members.”
Stopping ‘brain drain’
One of TYPros’ fiercest advocates, Dr. Gerard Clancy, says the organization is vital to the health of Tulsa and to the creation of a worthwhile and sustainable future. Clancy, formerly a Chamber board chairman and current vice president for health affairs at The University of Tulsa, remembers the dire state of Tulsa’s economy and the lack of civic vibrancy about a decade ago.
“By 2003, we (Tulsa) were at rock bottom,” he recalls. “We had some major hits that really hurt us after 9/11 with American Airlines suffering, and our telecommunications sector struggling. We had lost 30,000 jobs, second only to San Jose per capita in jobs lost.”
With the job losses, a sour economy and a stagnant downtown with few attractions, Tulsa was at risk for a brain drain of its best and brightest young talent.
City leaders began to come to grips with the problem, pushing Vision 2025 (which included the BOK Center), encouraging downtown retail and restaurant development and, just as importantly, looking for ways to stem the outflow of Tulsa’s young people.
The result was TYPros, an organization whose importance can’t be overestimated, Clancy says.
“The competition for young talent is pressing,” he says. “The population overall is aging, and there is a decrease in the tax base. Young talent is the lifeblood of a community, and retaining that talent is critical. We don’t want to lose our dynamic young people to San Francisco or Boston or other cities.”
Young professionals’ voices must be heard in community decision making or the risk of losing them grows, Clancy says. Livability and amenities are key to retention, and younger adults want input when it comes to recreation, walkability, bikeability, culture and arts.
“We can’t be a plain Jane city and keep our young talent,” he cautions.
Fortunately, young professionals’ voices are being heeded, Clancy says. Their influence should continue to grow.
“Through TYPros, they have a strong voice,” he points out. “Without their voices, the future is an uphill struggle. Just look at places like Detroit or Cleveland or Stockton — old cities with old infrastructure. Young people are the lifeblood of a city. They are the next leaders.”
Zakerion believes TYPros will continue to thrive, gain more influence and shape the city’s destiny.
“The hard work has begun, but we have a long way to go,” she says. “Tulsa in many ways is still trying to figure out its identity for the future. That creates a lot of excitement for young people. We’re helping to create that identity.
“Over the next 10 years, I expect us to be shouting the greatness of Tulsa from the rooftops.”
Tulsa Regional Chamber launches Tulsa’s Young Professionals (TYPros) to retain and attract YPs, which
- Grows to more than 1,400 members
- Forms an advisory council made up of area business, community and government leaders
- Hosts a YP Day at the Capitol
- Grows to 2,500 members, making it one of the nation’s fastest growing YP groups
- Expands to include nine Work Crews
- Creates a comprehensive guide for area employers as part of Intern in Tulsa
- Supports its first position on a political issue with the Rock the River campaign
- Expands its events to include D2: Diversity and Dialogue
- Organization reaches 5,000 members
- Establishes a Sustainability Crew to focus on green issues
- Grows to more than 6,300 members
- Hosts a brainstorming session on downtown revitalization
- Raises more than $12,000 for TYPros’ community partner, Big Brothers Big Sisters
- Unveils centennial gift to the city, a 12-foot sculpture/fountain at East Sixth Street and South Boston Avenue
- TYPros initiative, The Forge business development center, opens its doors for startup companies
- Creates the Urbanist Crew, focused on revitalization and downtown development
- Raises more than $15,000 for Junior Achievement, a community partner
- Launches Street CReD, an initiative aimed to revitalize Tulsa’s under-utilized neighborhoods
- Hosts its first large-scale fundraiser, the Tulsa Big Wheel Race, raising more than $15,000 for Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, matched by the George Kaiser Family Foundation
- Recognizes local individuals who contribute to the TYPros mission with inaugural Boomtown Awards
- Raises $9,000 for the community partner, YWCA-Tulsa
- Places 80 young professionals as nonprofit board interns
- Hosts second Street CReD in Red Fork
- Hosts inaugural “Bring It To Tulsa” event, a grassroots business retention and expansion initiative
- Raises more than $12,000 for community partner Arts & Humanities Council
- Hosts third annual Street CReD in north Tulsa
- Merges two Crews to create the Attraction Crew, focusing energy on attracting young talent to Tulsa
- Launches the Arts and Entertainment Crew, focusing on advocating for and improving Tulsa’s arts and entertainment cultural scene
- Attracts more than 2,500 attendees for Street CReD: Urban Core
- Hosts the Golden Crater design competition to reimagine downtown’s surface parking lots
- Creates the TYPros Foundation, replacing the former community partner program