TAMPA — Tampa Bay companies that want a piece of the Republican National Convention can learn more about how to compete for the business on Jan. 19 at Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.
The 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee will hold a forum from 9 a.m. to noon that day to give locals a chance to find out about its new small business networking program.
The convention, scheduled for Aug. 27-30 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, is expected to bring an estimated $175 million in spending to the area, according to convention organizers.
The goal of the small business network, unveiled in November, is to use the platform of the convention to help drive commerce to hometown companies.
"We want to promote our Tampa Bay small business community and maximize their opportunities for exposure to the many corporations and convention attendees who will be coming to the Tampa Bay area," host committee president Ken Jones said Thursday in a written statement.
One of the keynote speakers at the forum will be Hector V. Barreto, former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Barreto is chairman of the Latino Coalition, a nonprofit business advocacy group that is helping the host committee establish the network.
At the forum, entrepreneurs also will hear from the host committee, convention-related contractors and local officials.
Leading up to and during the convention, the GOP, its state delegations, as well as visiting corporations, event planners and others are expected to need products or services in nearly 50 categories — from decorations to heavy equipment rental to linens to printing.
Creating the networking program is not the host committee's only effort to connect small businesses to buyers. It also is reaching out to corporate supporters both inside and outside Tampa Bay in search of potential contracts for local companies.
The host committee has encouraged its members to promote the networking program with friends, business associates and their own companies. It also has sent a letter to local chambers of commerce asking them to help identify local and national companies that could place contracts out to bid through the program.
To qualify for the networking 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.
Consequently, companies that want to bid for convention-related business and are not already certified need to contact one of those cities or counties.
"We've had lots of interest," said Cynthia Johnson, Pinellas County's senior manager for business assistance. At an introductory event last month, Pinellas small business development officials certified 42 companies. They're also getting three or four walk-ins a day asking about the program.
That's no surprise, considering that the convention is expected to be unlike anything Tampa Bay has ever seen, including those four Super Bowls, the World Series and the Stanley Cup Finals.
Organizers say the convention will draw 50,000 visitors who will need 15,000 hotel rooms for each night of the convention, plus another 75 venues for parties.
With up to 15,000 journalists looking for a story, it is the largest media event anywhere outside the Olympics.
The Jan. 19 forum is the first of two the host committee plans. It will also publish a directory of participating businesses to help connect buyers to local sellers, both during and after the convention.
Each business enrolled in the program 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, so the host committee isn't guaranteeing that every business that signs up for its program will close a deal.
Still, host committee members say they don't know of any previous GOP convention that has tried to do as much to promote local businesses.
"It's the right thing to do," host committee chief operating officer Matt Becker said, "and we think it's important to do."