FtLauderdaleBy Genny Hom-Franzen

Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is one of the country’s top destinations when it comes to food, fun and sun, and it is also the site of the 14th Annual National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce International Business & Leadership Conference at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort and Spa.

The gathering is the largest LGBT business development event in the world. An estimated 800-plus attendees are expected to participate, including LGBT and allied entrepreneurs, business owners, corporate representatives and LGBT chamber leaders from across the country and around the globe. During the conference, attendees can take part in three days of symposia, panel discussions, development seminars and special events designed to generate business opportunities and build strong relationships. Major sponsors include American Airlines Inc., IBM Corp., U.S. Bank, Southern California Gas Co., MillerCoors LLC and Wells Fargo & Co.

Keith Blackburn, president/CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, who is working closely with NGLCC to help organize the conference, said besides the obvious networking and educational benefits, attendees have the unique opportunity to obtain business. “There will be 150 Fortune 500 companies attending. These major companies are looking to do business with suppliers who are LGBT-certified,” he said. Blackburn explained that NGLCC has more than 140 corporate partners and has added 13 new corporate partners in the past six weeks, including Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. “This conference is a great chance for local businesses to interact with corporate members and, hopefully, do business with these corporations.”

Featured conference speakers include personal finance expert Suze Orman, who will give a luncheon address. Other speakers include CNN International anchor and reporter Richard Quest, personal branding expert Sally Hogshead and Washington Post columnist and MSNBC contributor Jonathan Capehart. Plenary and breakout sessions will feature a plethora of critical business topics including collaborating for success, expanding the impact of supplier diversity, leveraging LGBT demographics, going global, building a federal contracting game plan, corporate branding, corporate procurement and much more. The conference will also have a Marketplace Expo and matchmaker meetings — by appointment only — in which certified LGBT business enterprises will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with decision-makers, purchasing representatives and supplier diversity professionals from NGLCC corporate partners to gain valuable insights on bidding for contracts and build direct relationships with potential clients.

Blackburn, who has lived in Fort Lauderdale for 12 years, is extremely pleased with the selection of the conference’s location this year. He said this is the first time the conference has been held in Fort Lauderdale. Recent conferences have been held in Las Vegas, Dallas and Chicago. “The GFLGLCC has a very strong relationship with the Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau and many of the chapter’s members work in the tourism or convention industries,” he said.

With all the local talent organizing the conference, attendees who are not familiar with the Fort Lauderdale area should not worry, as conference planners have thought of everything. A locally produced LGBT travel guide, which includes insiders’ recommendations of where to eat, stay and shop, will be given to each participant at registration. In addition, Blackburn said that GFLGLCC board members and other local volunteers and businesses are eager to assist attendees. “We are working with our member businesses in the area to brief them. Many of them are eager to welcome our attendees with discounts,” he said.

Despite the long hours and hard work involved in putting on a national conference of this magnitude, Blackburn is pleased that his chapter is working closely with NGLCC to bring the event to fruition. “From the LGBT side of things, it is very important to maintain a strong relationship with NGLCC,” he said. “They bring a lot of advocacy and benefits, which makes it all worth doing.”

Conference registration costs range from $549 for NGLCC-certified small businesses to $1,399 for corporations that are not NGLCC members. Affiliate chamber members receive spec