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Brandon businesses hope to attract RNC dollars

BRANDON — The masses will arrive through Tampa International Airport with an eye on downtown and, perhaps, a longing to drive to the Pinellas beaches.

A lot of people with money to spend will descend on the Tampa Bay area during the Republican National Convention in August.

But will it any of it flow east, toward Brandon? How can suburban business owners — away from the picturesque sandy stretches and bustling metropolitan hubs — cash in on millions in possible revenue?

"Essentially, the impact is going to be in Tampa," said Tanya Doran, executive director of the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce. "Hopefully we'll feel a little surge out this way.

"We are a residential community. We're not a tourist destination. We know that."

The Tampa Bay Host Committee predicts the RNC will generate $175 million in direct spending. It's difficult to estimate how many of those dollars will benefit the Tampa Bay area, but east Hills­borough businesses say they're eager for any possible boost.

The suburbs will most likely see increased business with more travelers passing through while heading to St. Petersburg, Tampa, Sarasota or Orlando, Doran said. Some industries seem better poised to enhance their profits.

Brandon-area hotels, which tend to serve mostly corporate customers, are pitching their proximity and affordability. Many local hotels, particularly those with easy access to the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and Interstate 75, sit about 10 miles from the Convention Center.

Last year, convention officials said they intended to use about 15 Brandon hotels.

James Davis, spokesman for the convention's Committee on Arrangements, declined this week to provide an updated location breakdown for the 105 hotels booked for the Aug. 27-30 convention.

With delegates already placed in 36 hotels, the remainder of the 16,000 reserved rooms will house the host committee, campaign staffers, media and law enforcement. Those assignments will be made based on groups' requests for space and cost, Davis said, and will not be announced publicly.

One local hotel representative reported three Brandon-area hotels expect to accommodate security and service personnel.

The added RNC business will ramp up a slow, off-season month, said Virginia Lalani, director of sales and marketing for Impact Properties.

She has heard from hotels as far as Bradenton and Lakeland boasting sell-outs for the week of the RNC.

"It's going to be big," Lalani said.

The Tampa Bay Host Committee, a nonprofit charged with promoting the area for the RNC, has taken a regional approach to encouraging economic development.

"The broader answer is, it's not just about Tampa, or Brandon, or Valrico, or Thonotosassa or Plant City," host committee president Ken Jones said. "It's about everything."

One of the committee's biggest marketing efforts is the small-business network directory. It lists 12 businesses in Brandon, 10 in Riverview, nine in Plant City and several others throughout unincorporated Hillsborough County.

Lashunda Mangum and her husband own the Brandon-based cleaning company Immaculate Janitorial Services. She signed up for the small-business network directory when she heard others talking about getting involved.

"There's always that chance that the right exposure will lead to more profit," she said.

Disc jockey Kyle Jackson — known as DJ I AM — echoes that hope.

"If I get some love here at the RNC, it could get really big for me," said Jackson, who owns Party 101 Productions in Brandon. "I took all the steps. I planted my seeds. I'm waiting."

Jackson said he knows other business owners who didn't reach out to the host committee. He called that lack of initiative "a huge mistake."

"I don't know if folks get confused thinking that business has something to do with politics, or they feel like their political views are different," he said. "That's crazy talk to me. You can have your political beliefs, but this is business."

Riverview's newest events center, the Regent, didn't make it onto the convention's official venues list. But executive director Kristen Kerr says she's already fielded a few inquiries for RNC-related events in August and continues to network with caterers, hotels and chambers of commerce to book the Regent's space.

"I'm very confident," Kerr said, "because we're a huge facility, and downtown's going to be inundated with folks. If they can find a way out, and they want something a little more private and exclusive, we're here."

The Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce worries that some of its members didn't take advantage of the small-business network directory — a chance to promote themselves "almost on a national level," said Laura Simpson, the chamber's vice president of engagement and programming.

The chamber forwarded emails about the directory to its members, but Simpson said she felt there wasn't enough outreach in east Hillsborough.

The host committee advertised the directory for months, but it was up to local businesses to contact the committee to express interest.

In these months leading up to the RNC, Simpson said the Brandon chamber is now working with the host committee and wants to make sure its members dig into any other convention opportunities.

"We definitely have a lot to offer here," she said. "You can't get any more convenient than Brandon. We might not have a beach, and that's okay. We have a lot of other things that would definitely be a benefit."

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443.

Brandon businesses hope to attract RNC dollars 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 4:30am]
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