Thursday, January 18, 2018
Business

Local small businesses still waiting for RNC contracts

With the Republican National Convention just three months away, some Tampa Bay small business owners are worrying they won't get a piece of the $175 million convention pie.

As of Monday — the day the Tampa Bay Host Committee published its small business directory showcasing the bay area's business community to conventiongoers — many still hadn't heard anything about opportunities to work at the convention.

"You would think by now I would have heard from somebody about something," said Bill Carmen, owner of Tampa Bay Party and Balloon in Largo.

It's strange that he hasn't, he said, since balloons are the "cornerstone of every convention."

"I don't understand where the strings haven't attached," Carmen said.

And depending on the size or type of balloon order, he will need several weeks to complete it. If he doesn't hear from planners soon, he might not be able to get them the balloons they want when they want them.

The convention in August is expected to bring millions to the area 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 created a small business networking program that held two educational forums earlier this year and published the online directory of more than 500 businesses to help connect buyers with local sellers. To qualify for the program, a business had to 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, women/minority business enterprise or service-disabled veteran enterprise by the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg or by Hillsborough or Pinellas counties.

Carmen attended both networking events hosted by the committee, which he said were "phenomenal." But since the last one in March, he hasn't heard from the host committee.

He's not the only one.

Chris Moore, owner of Custom Linen Rentals in Tampa, said he didn't even know his business made it into the directory until another vendor told him. No one has called him about doing business at the convention and the only information he has gotten from the host committee is in its emailed newsletters.

"Why am I even getting this stuff?" Moore asked.

Other business owners have put out their own feelers for contacts.

Valerie Sableski, manager of Favor-it Delights in Clearwater, a company that sells party favor products, said she hasn't heard anything through the committee. But she and her business partner scored some contracts through their own connections.

"Because of a lack of communication, we're not actually relying on (the committee)," she said. "But they have been a tremendous help in terms of networking."

That is what businesses should be doing, said Ken Jones, the host committee president and chief executive.

The purpose of the directory, he said, is to showcase the talent of the Tampa Bay area and provide a platform for businesses to self-promote. The committee can't guarantee that all businesses will get work, Jones said.

"The best strategy, in my mind, is for small businesses to be as aggressive as possible," he said.

And as inconvenient as it is, many planners will wait until the last minute to plan parties and book caterers, florists and balloon providers.

Jones said the committee will email the delegations the link to the directory within the next few weeks and encourage them to start planning. As the committee on arrangements finishes the hotel and venue assignments for the convention, Jones expects more buyers will be calling local sellers now that they know where they will be staying.

Carmen remains skeptical.

"I think there will be people that will get (business), but I don't think it will be anything near what the original expectation was," he said.

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