We need more people like us in these spaces in order to truly see the changes that we want to see,” Tia Cannon says. (Photo by Linelle Anderson, freelance photographer)

Growing up, Tia Cannon was immersed in Milwaukee’s North Side. She attended Francis Brock Starms and UW-Milwaukee, volunteered at Milwaukee College Prep, frequented the YMCA on North Avenue, went to Camp Whitcomb/Mason and patrolled the area as a police explorer with Post 883.

Her great grandmother had a house around North 45th Street and West Center Street; her mother bought one a few blocks down on North 51st Street and her grandmother had a house on North 45th Street and West Concordia Avenue.

By her own words and as evident by her background, Cannon, 31, is deeply rooted in the community.

Last month, Cannon became the BID manager for the North Avenue Marketplace Business Improvement District 32. She replaced Robin Reese and is one of the youngest people to hold this position.

“I’m just really excited and really empowered to really make and see and be a part of the change that everybody wishes to see in that area,” Cannon said during an interview with the Milwaukee Courier.

She hopes her role in the manager position will serve as an incentive and initiative to other young people interested in becoming entrepreneurs and encourage them to be in spaces despite their age and because of their accolades.

“Ms. Cannon embodies the energy, passion, and vision needed to make Marketplace BID 32 a destination for business investment in the city of Milwaukee,” Marketplace BID 32 Board Chair, Steven DeVougas said in the press release announcing Cannon’s position. “I look forward to working with her, as we build on the legacy of those who have preceded us.”

Cannon’s vision for Marketplace BID 32, which boundaries begin on North Avenue from North 8th Street to North 27th Street and continue on Fond Du lac Avenue from North 17th Street to North 27th Street, is to create a safe and thriving business community.

“My vision with the BID is to truly create a sustainable commercial corridor that enhances and pushes entrepreneurship along with community engagement and stakeholder engagement on a different level than what was done in the past,” Cannon said.

Activating the community means starting at the foundation and building that trust, she said. To Cannon, that means patronizing businesses, talking to business owners, meeting with residents and being fully present in the space daily.

It’s about connecting with the community and business owners and prospective business owners and investors and getting them to see the big picture, she said. If there’s no connection between development and the people, then there’s no point.

“Sometimes we only see the small things,” she said. “We only see just the crime rate or just the way it looks, but we don’t see what it can be.”

Once that trust is established, she hopes that it activates the community to occupy, purchases and renovate the vacant commercial spaces. She noted that getting a sustainable business is only part of it, the second part includes continual support to keep the business operating, which in turn fosters more revitalization.

“These neighborhoods have lots of history,” she said. “We have to educate them on the history but then also be relatable and connect on a different level than just ‘here’s this program.’ If we establish a connection and establish relatability, and really get grounded in the community, I feel like we’re going to see those changes.”

For Cannon, this is more than a job, it is her passion.

“It’s my community; it’s where I grew up; it’s what I’ve been involved in,” she said.

While this is her first time being the leader in the forefront, she’s been doing the work behind the scenes for years. In 2014, she launched her own company, ANC Real Estate and prior to that she worked at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage as a client service consultant and later as a loan servicing specialist.

Through ANC Real Estate, she held back to school drives in Johnson Park with Ald. Russell Stamper and did holiday giveaways. Although the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted these traditions, she’s hoping to bring them back as well as continue her predecessor’s tradition of Fondy Fridays.

Currently, she serves as the owner’s representative for Scott Crawford, a real estate development company led by Que El-Amin. Her duties include making sure the company is in compliance with its budget, that it’s hitting timelines and supporting subcontractors.

Cannon explained that it was her work with Scott Crawford that encouraged to accept the BID 32 manager position.

“We need more people like us in these spaces in order to truly see the changes that we want to see,” Cannon said. “From an economic standpoint, from a revitalizing the community standpoint, and encouraging and empowering the community to want to see that change too.”

Cannon said her experience with working with different companies and multiple moving parts have helped prepare her and will guide her in this new role. The challenge, she said, will be getting everyone on the same page and slowing down to make sure everyone sees the vision.

“I like to move fast because the vision is already there, but I have to slow down and get other people to see the vision too,” she said.

For her, the biggest concern is safety. Businesses fail because of safety, she said, people move because they don’t feel safe. Addressing the lack of safety and getting it under control will lead to more businesses being supported by the community, not just those passing through, she said. This will allow more businesses to continue to flourish and in turn encourage more to come.

“I’m looking forward to all of the new businesses that are going to be positioned in our space, that are going to be creating a legacy for themselves, their family and their neighborhoods and creating Black history in a positive light in our district in Lindsay Heights in the BID District 32,” Cannon said.