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Wanted: positive ideas about Tampa Bay to counter negative vibes

Tired of negative media coverage about the Tampa Bay region, from the hype about "lousy" schools to a "lackluster" economy, area business leaders are fighting back.

First up: A campaign to accentuate more positive details about both the greater metro area and some legitimately cool things happening here.

The campaign's goal is to share literally dozens of authentic examples of what's good about doing business and living here. Then it will present the best of what makes "Tampa Bay Shine" in ads and via social media in the coming year leading up to August's Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Delivering an upbeat message to the RNC is the top near-term goal. But business leaders say they want this campaign to build up steam long after the Republicans return home.

People here tend to think less positively of Tampa Bay than those outside the area, says Rhea Law, who chairs the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and heads the Fowler White Boggs law firm.

When traveling, Law says she gets more bullish feedback about this area. "From my experience, more often I hear people say 'Wow, you really have something going there' in Tampa Bay."

Motivated by that split in perception (and a bit by a column I wrote about Tampa Bay's need to address its identity crisis), Law recently hosted a few meetings of diverse area business thinkers to ponder: How do we get ourselves and others to view Tampa Bay in a better light?

I know what you're thinking. Geez, not another soulless PR campaign built on fluff and whimsy.

I assure you, that's not the intent — though I concede this is no easy task. People are in a sour economic mood. That cynicism can make it tougher to put together a real list of good stuff for Tampa Bay businesses and people.

So here's the deal: Before any campaign gets finalized, these folks want broad input.

The Tampa Bay Partnership has volunteered its staff to solicit ideas for a new list of how "Tampa Bay Shines."

Here's how: Go online to this website: tampabayshines.com. Look over some examples of good things happening here. You will find a simple form to fill out if you have a "Shine" fact you wish to add for consideration.

Make it credible, and offer a source to support the fact. But it can be something cool about business, art, education, cities, neighborhoods or people.

With luck, this can be more than Tampa Bay's economic establishment calling the shots.

One early participant in this effort is the young (and clearly nonestablishment) Nathan Schwagler, whose title at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg is "creative-in-residence & visiting instructor of entrepreneurship."

Last month he challenged a room full of local creatives for "Shines" ideas at Tampa's BarCamp conference (where they talk about entrepreneurial ways to tap the potential of the Internet).

Says Schwagler: "It was a standing-room-only scenario, lots of enthusiasm around the challenge, and approximately 380 ideas were generated in 45 minutes."

Now he's sorting those ideas to find the best.

I'll revisit this quest for upbeat messages about Tampa Bay. It's still early. But they really do want your input... tampabayshines.com.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Wanted: positive ideas about Tampa Bay to counter negative vibes 10/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 1:32pm]

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