Thursday, February 22, 2018
Politics

Bay area business leaders look to capitalize on Republican National Convention

TAMPA — Tampa attorney Steve Burton joked that the 100-plus gathering jammed into a room at Mise en Place resembled a mosh pit.

But attendees weren't typical moshers, and the agenda was far more serious: how does Tampa Bay's business community capitalize on the upcoming Republican National Convention, the biggest-ever opportunity to trumpet the region?

As chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's RNC Task Force, Burton's goal was to bring top economic development and business leaders together to make sure they're on the same page. A who's who of power brokers at Thursday afternoon's gathering included: USF President Judy Genshaft, Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano, Progress Energy Florida CEO Vinny Dolan and RNC Host Committee chairman Al Austin.

With less than four months until the RNC arrives, event organizers are ramping up:

• Plans are gelling to partner with a global media giant to bring in CEOs from around the country for an economic summit. "If we get one corporate relocation out of this, in my mind that's a victory," RNC Host Committee president Ken Jones said.

• In addition to a media center to pitch stories to 5,000 media members, organizers are creating a studio to broadcast positive stories about the convention and the community.

• The Tampa Bay Partnership recently launched FrontRowTampaBay.com, a website it hopes becomes a portal for economic development stories touting the area.

Most speakers were largely glowing about the collaborative efforts so far. M.E. Wilson Company president Guy King called concerns that local economic development groups don't work well together "untrue" and "water under the bridge."

But Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said he's worried about repeating mistakes made during the Final Four, when visitors complained about jammed commutes between Tampa and St. Pete.

"We have to get serious, guys, about connectivity," he said. "I don't see it happening yet and I'm concerned."

Burton closed the meeting with an open agenda item he called "The ask." "While we have the RNC, some of the most powerful people in the world (will be here)," he said. "What would we want to ask for?"

Suggestions included: building light rail, replacing the Howard Frankland Bridge with a wider one allowing dedicated mass transit and wooing a five-star hotel.

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