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Tampa leaders, despite area's attributes, worry for region

Tampa Bay has some clear strengths — and weaknesses.

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  • | 7:51 a.m. January 23, 2021
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Rick Homans sees “some clear warning signs” for the region’s economy in the Tampa Bay Partnership’s latest Regional Competitiveness Report. “This data,” the partnership’s president and CEO says, “points to some serious issues that need to be addressed on a regional scale.”

The report compares the Tampa Bay region (defined as Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties) to 19 other similar communities, including Jacksonville, Orlando and South Florida, as well as places like Seattle, Denver, and Charlotte.

Part of what’s likely driving Homans’ pessimism are Tampa Bay’s income statistics. The region’s average wage ranked No. 19 out of the 20 communities, while median household income was dead last. And there are workforce quality challenges too: only about 40% of area residents have at least an associate’s degree, putting Tampa Bay No. 19 out of 20 on that measure as well.

So why do people keep moving here?

As the report shows, Tampa Bay ranks No. 2 among these 20 communities in net migration — that is, the number of people moving to this area minus the number that have moved away. And in last year’s report, Tampa ranked No 1 in that category.

And when people move to a community, you’d expect to see positive impacts on home prices, as well as overall economic activity. And that’s true for Tampa Bay, which saw the No. 4 increase in home prices among the peer group, as well as the third-highest growth rate for gross regional product, a localized version of GDP.

To be sure, the report clearly shows Tampa Bay has an opportunity to help its young people succeed: more than 12% of residents between the ages of 16 and 24 are neither in school nor employed (No. 18 out of 20). But are big investments in public transit and relocations of high-tech companies the cure for that ill? Homans, in talking about the warning signs in the regional economy, says “We all love Tampa Bay, but we sometimes live in a bubble of false optimism.”

That might be true. But rather than chase Seattle, another truism — play up to your strengths — could also be in play here. Tampa Bay can do that while also seeking to be a slightly better version of what it already is: a lovely place to live.



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