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Looking to the last half of 2012 (and that RNC event), 10 people to watch

As we approach the midpoint of 2012, there's a fresh rush of faces and issues knocking on the door of Tampa Bay's business community.

By necessity, this region's hyper-focus on the upcoming Republican National Convention — how to make sure it's a success, how to promote our economic potential to a bigger world — is starting to overshadow other priorities.

Still, there's plenty of business change afoot. With that in mind, here are 10 people to watch in the second half of 2012. in alphabetical order:

Kevin Burgoyne: Call him the man with one of the thorniest economic challenges. He started Monday in Tampa as the executive director of the Florida Venture Forum, the statewide organization whose "modest" goal is to fatten the thin venture capital market in the Sunshine State for entrepreneurs. Burgoyne's background includes stints in sales and marketing at Walt Disney Co., PanAmSat Corp. and Global Crossing. He says he was drawn to the venture forum for the "timely challenge and opportunity of growing the forum's brand and community in the state, nationally and internationally." He's a University of Florida graduate with an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Arlene DiBenigno: She's working with 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee executive board member Kathleen Shanahan to help promote area economic development during the RNC. On their agenda: pulling together the host committee's "Why Florida, Why Now?" summit for CEOs in industries that could help diversify Florida's economy. DiBenigno's roots lie in Tallahassee, where she has held various staff and campaign positions with Gov. Rick Scott and state Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Jamie Egasti: He's been running under the radar here since arriving last fall. Egasti is the former Procter & Gamble executive and head of Folgers Coffee who's now the CEO of 1,300-employee Catalina Marketing in St. Petersburg. Catalina is one of the guru firms that helps retailers and brand manufacturers learn more about the buying preferences of consumers — and how to tap that information for improved sales.

Kathy Fountain: Her Kathy Fountain Show on WTVT-Ch. 13 in this market was a classic midday talk show. Now she's moved on and will anchor the regional business community-backed, Livestreaming show called Front Row Tampa Bay. It will broadcast live — from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. — for four days during the RNC from the 100-seat Stageworks Theatre in Tampa's Channelside district. Front Row Tampa Bay offered a sneak preview Wednesday morning to 70-plus area business leaders to demonstrate what could be a cool new way to generate regional content and communicate it quickly over the Internet at frontrowtampabay.com.

Adam Goodman: Speaking of Front Row Tampa Bay, Goodman is a co-creator of it as well as head of the Republican media consulting firm in Tampa called the Victory Group. Most of the firm's focus is on making political ads for Republican candidates, from early presidential candidate Herman Cain to state candidate Jeff Brandes. Goodman spoke at Wednesday's Front Row Tampa Bay preview about the live, four-day event during the RNC that will feature both regional and national business leaders. It's likely Front Row's first morning segment filed at the RNC's nightly party events could prove a big draw to the Internet-based telecast, the brainchild of the Tampa Bay Partnership.

Eric Higgs: Anybody in these economic times with the confidence — or daring — to talk about creating 1,000 jobs in the coming five years is certainly worth a closer look. Artist turned entrepreneur Higgs feted business and political leaders Thursday evening at St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts to showcase his local company LumaStream and its new LED lighting technology. He announced his plan to bring the engineering, development and manufacturing parts of his business back to St. Petersburg from Canada and Taiwan.

Kiran Patel: The doctor turned philanthropist turned real estate investor has been a bit out of the spotlight since the 2004 to 2008 era when he backed everything from international think tanks to new hospital services here. Now he is back as the new major backer of Savtira Corp., the cloud computing retailing startup in Ybor City that promised much but delivered little before seeking Chapter 11 protection earlier this year. Patel's behind a $4 million infusion that would give his investor group a majority stake in Savtira. What does he see of value still lurking in this bankrupt business?

Jim Rogers: This is the CEO of Duke Energy, whose power company in Charlotte, N.C., is about 99 percent of the way to finalizing its acquisition of Progress Energy. Here is the one sentence Rogers volunteered in a speech last year that may best capture what's ahead for Florida customers: "My view of the future is you will see a steep increase in prices, and that is different than what has happened in the past 50 years."

Rhonda Shear: On Thursday night in Orlando, the founder and CEO of shapewear maker Shear Enterprises in St. Petersburg learned she was one of eight state finalists who will compete at the national level for Entrepreneur of the Year in the prestigious Ernst & Young awards contest. A former beauty queen turned standup comic turned clothing designer, Shear has a personal interest in winning this event. Late-night comedy legend Jay Leno hosts the national Ernst & Young competition each November. Back in the 1980s, when Shear was on the Los Angeles comedy circuit, Leno paid her scant attention. Shear's hoping Leno will better remember her this time around.

Jeff Vinik: He's no longer just the new owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning. He's possibly the winning bidder — we'll find out soon — for the struggling Channelside retail complex. And last week his investing firm called Vinik Asset Management said it was relocating its Boston headquarters to downtown Tampa. As Vinik told the Times: "As our family looks to deepen its roots in this community, I believe establishing the company's home base here is a natural step. We continue to remain bullish on Tampa Bay and its future, and we look forward to opening our operation downtown later this summer." Put it all together and Vinik is about to evolve from the distant and wealthy New England sports owner to a local leader in the Tampa Bay business community.

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

Looking to the last half of 2012 (and that RNC event), 10 people to watch 06/16/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 16, 2012 4:31am]
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