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After Bollywood glitz, Tampa Bay aims to deepen ties with India

Bollywood actor Bipasha Basu performs during the International Indian Film Academy ceremony in Singapore in 2012. IIFA in Tampa is expected to reach 800 million TV viewers.
Bollywood actor Bipasha Basu performs during the International Indian Film Academy ceremony in Singapore in 2012. IIFA in Tampa is expected to reach 800 million TV viewers.
Published Mar. 20, 2014

We're just a month or so away from the Bollywood Oscars, a multiday extravaganza here that culminates in a high-glitz, hyper-fun awards show set for Raymond James Stadium before an expected live audience of 35,000 and global viewers estimated at an astonishing 800 million.

Recent Bollywood award ceremonies held in Bangkok, Singapore and Amsterdam have delivered visually spectacular affairs and strong plugs for those host cities.

Tampa Bay is betting on its own worldwide splash as the first site in the United States to hold what is formally called the International Indian Film Academy, or IIFA, awards.

So what does Tampa Bay get after the Bollywood fest ends?

This is new territory for this metro area's economic development machinery. This is no Super Bowl or other high stakes sporting event. No national political convention. Tampa Bay's been there and done those things.

"This is new. This is a big deal," Visit Tampa Bay Santiago Corrada said Wednesday morning at a briefing on Bollywood at Tampa's University Club. Sure, this is about tourism, he said, but it is really about the potential of longer-term economic development.

Corrada's just back from his second visit to India in the past eight months.

Wednesday's gathering came complete with Indian breakfast food and young dancers entertaining Bollywood style, courtesy of Tampa's Kismet Bollywood dance performance academy. Its leader, Niti Shah, is helping to raise Tampa Bay's cultural awareness of Indian customs.

Her simple and best advice is to politely say "namaste" (na-mas-tey) as a greeting of respect to visitors from India.

Two key pieces of the area business community could prosper from Bollywood.

The first, of course, is the 30,000-strong community of Indians living and working in the Tampa Bay area. Some are well known, such as medical doctor turned entrepreneur turned philanthropist Kiran Patel. But the regional influence of India is growing rapidly with active business and academic players like Ashok Kartham, a founder and CEO of Tampa tech company M-ize or Sri Sridharan, who heads the early efforts to build a major cybersecurity center at the University of South Florida.

A big hope is that an "Indo-U.S. Partnership" business conference scheduled for the Tampa Convention Center two days before the April 26 awards event will deepen economic ties with India. More than 120 CEOs will attend, Corrada says. Prominent business leaders from India who will speak include the president of Tata Motors, the automaker whose holdings include Jaguar and Land Rover, and the CEO of Infosys, India's outsourcing giant.

Don't expect blockbuster deals overnight. Tampa Bay hoped that its hosting the 2012 Republican National Convention would spark fresh business here. It may yet, with time and dedication.

India, 9,000 miles away from Tampa Bay, will require even more follow-up and patience. And lots of frequent flier miles.

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