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Two boards hope to put Tampa on the world map

As he mingled in a banquet hall full of world flags and French desserts, where the table centerpieces were flowers sticking out of globes, Mayor Dick Greco promised Tuesday that one day Tampa will be more than a small dot on the map.

"Our area is second to none," Greco said. "We have a huge port, a wonderful airport and strong businesses. It's time to put together a better mechanism to promote Tampa to the world than the fragmented one we have."

Greco was the nucleus of a world trade luncheon Tuesday with politicians and business leaders at the University of Tampa. What Tampa needs to woo foreign firms and tourists to the area, the mayor said, is a focused, coordinated effort. Over the next two months, Greco's office will work with business leaders to develop a strategy and establish two boards that will deal specifically with international trade.

The main players will be Tampa International Airport, the Port of Tampa, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa/Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Association. The heads of these agencies will sit on one board, and the mayor will appoint lawyers, bankers and executives to sit on another. In tandem, the boards will find ways to trumpet the assets of Tampa Bay, including a young labor force, untapped capacity at the airport and port, and attractions such as Ybor City and Pinellas County beaches.

"We're hoping to bring in Pinellas as soon as we're organized," said Fernando Noriega, the mayor's aide who will shepherd the trade strategy.

Noriega, like others at Tuesday's forum, is impressed with Orlando's success in luring 35-million visitors each year. Disney plays a huge role, no doubt, but Orlando city government has also helped. Glenda Hood, Orlando's mayor, created a regional trade association and provides office space in City Hall rent-free for foreign consulates. Hood was one of the speakers at the luncheon.

So was Bob Martinez, former mayor of Tampa and governor of Florida. Martinez said conditions today are better than ever to attract foreign firms and tourists.

"Our universities are more mature, our infrastructure has expanded, and the economy as a whole is more global than it was 10 years ago," Martinez said.

But Martinez, who runs a marketing firm in Tampa, was honest about the prospects of Tampa becoming an internationally recognized name.

"It's still the same wherever I go," he said. "The first thing anybody asks me is, how far is Tampa from Miami and Disney."