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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Will RNC pay off with jobs for Tampa?

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:57 AM

The circus may have moved to Charlotte with Democrats ready to take their turn on the national convention stage. But as far as Al Austin is concerned, the work to build on the Republicans' visit last week to Tampa is just getting started.

Austin is the Tampa developer and businessman man who played a key role in the city's successful fight to host and stage the Republican National Convention. Now after a few days to rest, relax and recharge after the Repubs left town, it's time to build on the goodwill created by the effort here to stage a global event.

Remember, to get the public behind the idea of hosting the RNC, it was sold as a chance to attract new businesses and jobs. We don't even need to say how badly those are needed, do we? The hope was to show CEOs around the country and beyond that Tampa has the right stuff to run with the big boys.

The theory went that by doing that, Tampa's economy could diversify with the coveted high-tech and well-paying jobs needed to lift everyone out of the doldrums. Austin's battle plan wasn't confined to Hillsborough County. This was an area-wide hootenanny.

Did it work?

It's too soon to tell, obviously. This was a long-term play to ensure Tampa's place among the league of important cities.

"Everyone I talked with couldn't have been more complimentary about how the whole thing turned out," Austin said. "The city was so well-prepared. I really think we had as good a win as we could have hoped for. The world knows about Tampa now."

The RNC Host Committee met its goal of raising about $55 million, Austin said, to help stage the event. That was clutch.

A few things didn't go exactly as planned, but then that always happens. Gov. Rick Scott, for instance, was supposed to be a key player in Tampa's economic pitch, but he was called back to Tallahassee because of Hurricane Isaac. There was a bus snafu the first day of the convention that rattled some nerves, but organizers quickly got it fixed.

So visitors saw that people can handle a big situation. What else did they see? Well, plenty.

"Those of us in the Tampa Bay area have seen gradual improvements around here over the years – new buildings, museums, the Mahaffey Theater, new hotels, things like that," Austin said. "Sometimes when it changes slowly, you don't notice it as much. But the visitors coming in saw everything at once and were very impressed."

Events like the RNC get swallowed by cities like New York, and the opposite could be true in a place like Tampa. With so much on the line, it was vital to get this right.

"The exposure alone identified Tampa as a much bigger place to people than it had been perceived to be," Austin said. "Things moved on time, on schedule, and everyone saw we have top-flight people here. You can't put a price on that.

"The goal was to help bring jobs here. It will take a little while to find out for sure how we did. I'm absolutely, absolutely, positively 100 percent convinced we succeeded. Absolutely."


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