Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Time to show broad RNC audience Tampa Bay's potential

This news story ran just after St. Paul hosted the 2008 Republican National Convention:

For four days, no one could say downtown St. Paul was dull.

With the RNC wrapped up Friday, St. Paul's residents and leaders reflected on the city's moment in the sun. The world got to see a historically sleepy city wake up and pull off what one business leader called "the Super Bowl, but for four days in a row" but also watched as local police clashed with waves of violent demonstrators, arresting more than 800 people.

Was it all worth it?

"I heard Brian Williams say on the nightly news that you'd have to be an idiot not to like St. Paul," said City Council president Kathy Lantry. "You can't buy publicity like that."

•••

Is this the basic story we'll read in another week or two? That sleepy Tampa was not dull during the 2012 RNC? Or that some news anchor gave Tampa an on-air thumbs-up?

Stormy weather or not, I'm betting Tampa earns more than a TV pat on the head.

The real success is the rare chance to offer up a fresh image of a metro area to a very large audience.

What it's not about is the RNC's economic impact.

Jones Lang LaSalle researchers forecast the Tampa area will benefit from $156 million in direct spending from the RNC. Minneapolis-St. Paul eventually claimed a $160 million impact. An optimistic Tampa Bay Host Committee sees RNC spending of up to $200 million.

But USF economics prof Philip "Bah Humbug" Porter reminds us that true economic benefits from any big event like the RNC are much smaller than we might wish.

I'm not taking sides.

Because I don't care.

What I have witnessed here in the months leading up to the RNC is a level of civic and business excitement I have not seen in 20-plus years of reporting here. Economic development groups, chambers of commerce, technology advocates, university leaders, students, CEOs and many inspired individuals have all rallied to try and tell a bigger world briefly focused here during the RNC that today's Tampa Bay has more on the ball than many people think.

It's been noted, correctly, that Tampa Bay's marketing message to its RNC audience is long on lists of things going on here. But it's short on a core message that answers:

What makes Tampa Bay a winner?

That's okay. Most metro areas are still figuring out their identities. Knowing the RNC was coming forced many leaders to refresh their visions of our own market.

To see national media suggest in early RNC scenesetter stories that Tampa strip clubs somehow embody modern-day Tampa Bay is absurd.

With 15,000 journalists in town, surely some will dig deeper. They might find innovators in the health, technology and marine sciences. Or a swell of rising entrepreneurs. Or an invasion of creative businesses in hip Ybor City.

That's when the publicity becomes priceless.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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