TAMPA — If your company is looking for ways to cash in on next year's Republican National Convention, here's some advice from the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee.
You can take a key step now that may involve filling out some paperwork at a city hall or county courthouse. Then, in January, you can register for an opportunity to bid on convention-related business.
"What we're hoping to do is open the door to promote Tampa Bay small business, showcase what they have to offer," said Matt Becker, the chief operating officer of the host committee, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group raising money to support the convention and market Tampa Bay.
The convention is expected to deliver $150 million to $175 million in direct spending. Its organizers, state delegations, visiting corporations, event producers and others will need to buy products or services in nearly 50 categories, from catering to graphics to florists to fireworks.
To help local companies tap into that market, the host committee Tuesday unveiled a new small business networking program that will hold two educational forums early next year and publish a directory to help connect buyers with local sellers.
To qualify for the program, a business must be located in and its owner must live in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk or Manatee counties.
Also, the company must be certified as a small business enterprise (SBE), women/minority business enterprise (WMBE) or service-disabled veteran enterprise (SDVE) by the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg or by Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.
So companies that want to vie for convention-related business can contact one of those cities or counties to go through the certification process.
In January, the committee will host the first of two forums on the program. Then online registration for local small businesses to sign up for the networking program will open.
The Republican National Convention is scheduled for Aug. 27-30 at the St. Pete Times Forum, and its scale is unlike anything Tampa Bay has seen.
With up to 15,000 journalists in attendance, it is the largest media event anywhere outside the Olympics. Overall, it is expected to draw 50,000 visitors who will need 15,000 hotel rooms for each night of the convention, plus another 75 venues for parties.
The host committee does not promise that every business that signs up will close a deal. But it wants its directory to be used by both local and out-of-town groups and organizations that may need a product or service.
Each approved business will have a link to its own website on the directory's website, with businesses listed by product or service. Contracts will be awarded on a competitive basis.
On Tuesday, the host committee started taking online registrations from groups or companies that expect to have contracts that they will need to put out for bid. Organizers said they are trying to encourage local and national companies to support Tampa Bay small businesses by registering their contracts at2012tampa.com.
As part of the program, the host committee also has enlisted the help of the California-based Latino Coalition (not to be confused with the Latino Coalition of Tampa Bay, a network of local social service providers).
In March, the Latino Coalition will team up with the host committee to hold the second of two forums designed to help Tampa Bay companies learn about business opportunities, register for the program and network.
The Latino Coalition is chaired by Hector V. Barreto, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. For Tampa organizers, the appeal of the partnership is less the coalition's affiliation with any one group and more its expertise promoting small business, including matchmaking and working with other national business organizations.
No other GOP convention has launched a local business outreach this broad, host committee president and CEO Ken Jones said.
"The program that we've designed is unique," he said. He couldn't say how much convention spending could reach small businesses in Tampa Bay, but "we're going to drive that percentage as high as we possibly can."
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.