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Republican National Convention host committee unveils small business network program



Organizers of next year’s Republican National Convention Tuesday rolled out a program to help local businesses vie for some of the $175 million the convention is expected to bring to Tampa Bay.

The convention, its state delegations, event producers and others will be looking for products and services in nearly 50 categories, from catering to graphics to florists to fireworks.

To help local companies tap into that market, the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee is creating a small business networking program that will hold two educational forums early next year and publish a directory to help connect buyers to local sellers.

The program is meant to promote small businesses in Tampa Bay, and it’s unprecedented for a GOP convention, host committee president and CEO Ken Jones said.

“We are committed to continuing to look for opportunities to drive economic development to the Tampa Bay market,” he said in a prepared statement. “This is just one of the programs we believe will help us do that.”

The convention is scheduled for Aug. 27-30 at the St. Pete Times Forum, and its scale is unlike anything Tampa Bay has seen. With about 13,000 to 15,000 journalists in attendance, it is the largest media event anywhere outside the Olympics.

Overall, the event is expected to draw 50,000 visitors who will need 15,000 hotel rooms for each night of the convention, plus another 75 venues for parties. Organizers estimate direct spending from the convention at $150 million to $175 million.

The small business network directory will be the host committee’s official listing of approved businesses that could be contacted — they don’t guarantee everyone will close a deal — for opportunities to bid on convention business.

To qualify for the program, a business must be located in and its owner must live in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk or Manatee counties.

They also must be certified as a small business enterprise (SBE), women/minority business enterprise (WMBE) or service-disabled veteran enterprise (SDVE) by the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg or Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.

As of Tuesday, the host committee’s online portal was open for companies to place any contracts out for bid, organizers said.

The host committee said it is encouraging local and national companies to support Tampa Bay small businesses by registering their contracts through the committee’s website,

The online registration for local small businesses to register for the networking program will open in January, organizers said.

The host committee plans to provide a link from the online version of its directory to each approved business’s website, with businesses listed by product or service.

Contracts will be awarded on a competitive basis.

As part of the program, the host committee has enlisted the help of the California-based Latino Coalition — not to be confused with the Latino Coalition of Tampa Bay, a network of local social service providers.

In March, the Latino Coalition will team up with the host committee to hold one of two local forums designed to help Tampa Bay companies learn about business opportunities, register for the small business program and network.

Chaired by Hector V. Barreto, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Latino Coalition has experience in promoting small business, including matchmaking and working with other national business organizations.

“Small business is the engine of our economy,” Barreto said in a statement released through the host committee. “I applaud their efforts to endorse the local small business community.”

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