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Orlando lands big plastics show -- restaurants were a deciding factor

A scene from The Graduate:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Just how do you mean that, sir?

The National Plastics Expo announced today that it was leaving Chicago, which has been home to its triennial megashow since its inception in 1971, for Orlando. NPE2012 will be held in April of 2012 and is expected to attract over 50,000 attendees, second only to the International Builders Show in size.

A number of factors entered into the decision by the NPE convention board, including an overall feeling that the Windy City was not showing much appreciation for the revenue the exposition was bringing them. Not once, they told officials from the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, did they ever receive so much as a phone call from the mayor of Chicago. Orlando officials vigorously pursued the convention's business.

But there was one thing that was keeping the move from being a slam dunk.

Just one word. Are you listening?

Restaurants.

It seems that in the early discussions the plastics organization had about moving the show to Orlando were stopped -- by one member in particular -- who said, “What are we supposed to do, have all of our client meetings in Golden Corral?”

And there we were, back at the same stereotype that the rest of the world has about Orlando restaurants. Most people see us as a city of theme parks with little more than corn dogs and turkey legs to sustain us. All-you-can-eat buffet restaurants represent haute cuisine, if any of us even knew such fancy words.

So last month a contingent of representatives -- Gary Sain, president and CEO of the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau; Rich Crotty, mayor of Orange County; Ray Gilley, president and CEO of the Metro Orlando EDC; Orange County commisioner Tiffany Moore Russell; Pablo Munoz of Tupperware; and Paul Tang of Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress -- traveled to Washington, D.C., to make a final plea to the convention board the night before they were to make their decision.

And they invited me to come along to talk about Orlando restaurants.

It was an easy task. Central Florida restaurants and their lack or respect and recognition is one of my favorite topics.


The CVB sponsored a dinner at the host hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City, which featured a reception beforehand and a performance by the Capitol Steps. During the reception I was introduced to the man who made the Golden Corral comment. We had an easy conversation starter: his last name is Petrakis, the same as James and Julie, the owners of The Ravenous Pig. They’re not related, but I told him that some folks with his name operate one of my favorite restaurants in the area. And we had a pleasant conversation from there.

In fact, all of the people associated with the plastics board were very nice, and they all said they were pretty sure Orlando would get the show. Still, it took another four weeks -- and another visit to Orlando -- before today’s announcement sealing the deal. (Another stumbling block was assurances that local roads could withstand the weight of the house-sized manufacturing equipment that will be transported from railroad to the convention center.)

After no phone calls all those years from Chicago’s Mayor Daley, the plastics board members were most appreciative that Mayor Crotty took the time to come along. And during the pre-dinner reception, Crotty called two of the organization’s leaders into an unoccupied meeting room and handed his cell phone to them. On the other end of the line, Governor Charlie Crist extended a personal invitation to them to bring their convention to Florida.

So that’s some of the backstory about how Orlando landed the NPE. Congratulations to the efforts of Sain and his team -- they impressed me with their dedication and vigorous pursuit of the prize. And congratulations to Central Florida’s restaurant scene for being tout worthy. And that’s just today -- imagine how much more vibrant and exciting the restaurant community will be by 2012.

Friday, 19th December 2014

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