TAMPA — The thinking is, the Tampa Bay area will never get a better chance to sell itself than during the Republican National Convention.
So business groups and convention organizers have plans in the works or under discussion to make the most of that last week in August:
• An A-list event is expected to feature Gov. Rick Scott and show off the University of South Florida's new $38 million Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation (CAMLS) in downtown Tampa.
• The nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership has launched a $600,000 privately funded project to tout the region's business strengths before, during and after the convention. This will include four days of live-streamed video to highlight local industries and the "Florida experience."
• The Tampa Bay Host Committee will host a "Why Florida, Why Now" summit for CEOs in industries that could help diversify Florida's economy.
• The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce plans to send up to 100 detailed white papers about local issues, institutions, people and trends to visiting journalists a month in advance of the convention.
Putting your message in the right hands is vital, chamber president Bob Rohrlack Jr. said.
A few months ago, after meeting with visiting foreign correspondents from Germany, France, Italy, Turkey and Japan, chamber officials saw that even though the journalists had done some homework, they didn't know much about the Tampa Bay area or what the convention would mean to it.
"We realized that we've got a chance to define who we are," he said.
What's more, a few people remember what it's like to see Tampa presented in a less than flattering light. There was the time in 1994, for instance, when Tom Brokaw broadcast the NBC Nightly News from Tampa.
"Everybody was excited because he was doing the news live from here," Rohrlack recalled.
At the time, drugs were a big issue, so Brokaw did a national story on drugs, then segued to a story about how Tampa was tearing down crack houses.
"They made it sound like there were just giant neighborhoods of crack houses," Rohrlack said. "It was like, 'No! What are you doing?' "
In August, he said, business leaders want to make sure that if someone decides to do a story on local schools, they see Bill and Melinda Gates' quotes about what they have described as the pioneering work they've seen in Hillsborough County's schools, especially when it comes to teacher feedback.
This doesn't mean wallpapering over problems, he said, but instead providing background and context about what the community is doing to address challenges like transportation and traffic.
The chamber is not alone in this outreach.
In an effort to raise $55 million for the convention, the Tampa Bay Host Committee's members have met with 250 CEOs, and Florida's business climate is a central part of the pitch.
Typically, these executives know about traditional reasons to support a convention, like promoting a brand or getting the chance to mingle with policy makers. But not everyone wants just to come and talk politics, and some are open to hearing about below-the-radar business opportunities.
So host committee president Ken Jones pitches things like CAMLS, the surgical training center built to draw doctors from all over the world.
"If you're in the health care field, you ought to be tripping over yourself to come down here and see this new building," he says. "It's that cutting-edge."
That's why economic development leaders want to showcase CAMLS to Tampa Bay's visitors. The facility, less than two blocks north of the convention complex, is one of the venues where groups can book convention-related events, though details of the event with Scott are scarce.
Similarly, the time and place of the host committee's CEO summit hasn't been set.
The Tampa Bay Partnership is calling its initiative Front Row Tampa Bay. From space it has booked at the Stageworks Theatre in the Channel District, it plans to broadcast four hours of live online video a day during the four days of the convention.
The 9 a.m.-to-1 p.m. programming will spotlight four parts of the region's economy: health care; technology and innovation; business, financial and data services; and marine and environmental activities. Employers in those areas account for about 360,000 jobs, or 24 percent of the workforce, in the eight counties covered by the Tampa Bay Partnership. They pay 20 percent above the average wage and are expected to grow to 500,000 jobs by the end of the decade.
What the partnership is thinking of is something with a live audience, sort of like MSNBC's Morning Joe. Some of the on-camera guests will be in the theater. Others will join in from around Florida and beyond via Skype or remote feeds.
The webcast programming also will look at how Tampa Bay's economy connects with broader trends. For example, someone from the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute could talk about Moffitt's work in personalized medicine. Organizers also are talking to the natural gas and electric industry representatives about doing a segment on energy conservation, and electric and natural gas vehicles.
"It will be a mix of local businesses telling their story and national leaders coming in and helping us to understand how we can grow these industries," partnership president Stuart Rogel said.
To create the live stream broadcasts, the partnership will bring in former WTVT-Ch. 13 news veterans Frank Robertson and Kathy Fountain and has teamed up with political strategist Adam Goodman's Victory Group. Florida Trend, whose parent company also owns the Tampa Bay Times, is a media sponsor.
The partnership is looking for sponsors to underwrite the cost of the project as well as contribute programming. So far, it's about a quarter of the way toward its $600,000 goal.
"As we build this," Rogel said, "we will have a targeted audience, hopefully, of tens of thousands of people who have been exposed to the story, like the story, want to learn more, want to stay connected with us and want to keep that communication going long after the RNC has ended."