Tampa Bay economy compared to five other regions; only Jacksonville was worse

03/13/12 Janelle Irwin
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A report released today ranks Tampa Bay almost dead last out of six comparable regions. Officials from the agency say even though the area didn’t move from its overall standings last year, there have been improvements to economic development. Stuart Rogel who is the president and CEO of Tampa Bay Partnership says the creation of new jobs is one of the biggest wins.

“Tampa ranks fifth out of six communities that we bench mark against on this year’s score card. We’ve seen on the upside some increase in our employment from year to year of 15,000 new jobs from the third quarter of 2010 to the third quarter of 2011. But overall we’ve seen ourselves still ranking fifth out of six communities with a little of an increase moving up there getting close to fourth.”

But even with that many new jobs across the eight counties that make up the Tampa Bay region, employment is still faltering. Dave Sobush is a business intelligence officer with Tampa Bay Partnership. He says the stagnancy isn’t uncommon across other regions either.

“We were able to lower the unemployment rate, but not to the extent that we were able to leap frog another region. The labor force growth rate which represents those that are employed as well as those that are actively seeking work – it’s in sixth place for Tampa Bay. You’ll notice that for half of the regions here you are seeing a decline in the labor force growth rate mostly due to discouraged workers.”

Charlotte, Dallas, Raleigh-Duram, Jacksonville and Atlanta are the five areas used as benchmarks. Jacksonville is the only region to receive an overall ranking worse than Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay Partnership’s Stuart Rogel links the poor performance because both are in Florida. But that prompted the group to create a regional business plan that would boost economic development by focusing on industries where Tampa Bay could out perform other areas.

“In fact, we’ve learned that if we do a good job of this which we know we will, we can increase the increase the employment base of four major industry categories by over 150,000 jobs by the end of this decade and that’s what we’re working on is a race to 500,000 new jobs. Those industries are applied medicine and human performance, high tech electronics and instruments, marine and environmental activities and business, financial and data services.”

One way the business plan plots economic growth is by tying education to job growth. John Schueler, the chair of the regional business plan says higher learning institutions need to first get students to graduate and then focus on providing key curricula.

“So those that have gone to two years or three years, but have never graduated and now we’re trying to make sure that we figure out a way to get them to. So, keep that aside. Now this, the reaction to the economic malaise has been to create the regional business plan. Within the regional business plan we’ve looked at clusters of businesses that are going to require – we believe – 150,000 new jobs. In order to do that, we have to have the educational institutions – whether or not they’re community colleges, private colleges, universities – to look at what are the business needs for those and how do you shape curriculum to make that happen?”

And Schueler added even in its early stages, the plan is already working.

“One of the chairs of the group of our medical group, they went off on their own and Bio Florida created the Scientific Council which is, broadly speaking, a group of people, of entrepreneurs that are really working this. We got the same thing in the marine group which has gone off on its own. We’ve got entrepreneurs on our group teaching us what it took for them to buy the land to start the farming process and what it took to work through the regulations. What were there hiccups with it? What are the job requirements they have. So we’re learning things that we would have never have done. So from that, things are spawning off as we speak.”

Planners ARE celebrating a first place ranking for transportation. But Tampa Bay Partnership’s Stuart Rogel says that looks good, but it also gives a look into how the economy is really playing out.

“We think those are some lagging trends relative to the economic downturn. So, in other words we see that transit ridership is up substantially in the region compared to these other six cities – regions. We think that’s because people are giving up their car and riding transit because of the cost affordability.”

The score card also measured housing trends. Both Tampa Bay and Jacksonville ranked in the bottom third of all housing categories. The worst for the Tampa region was the rental affordability ratio. The study showed that a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment costs, on average, 22% of a tenant’s annual income. Tampa Bay Partnership officials blame that on lower median income levels.

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