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Robert Trigaux

In six-metro economic contest, dead last again



What do the Tampa Bay area the recent stock markets have in common? The speed at which they have raced to the bottom. The Tampa Bay Partnership released its twice-a-year regional report card that compares key economic characteristics of six southern southeastern metro area with which the Tampa Bay area likes to feel it can compete for jobs and growth.

The new report card, out this morning, puts the Tampa Bay area last among the six. Just where the Tampa Bay area was last spring. You can find the report card here.

What's painful is that when this report card was first put together a few years ago, Tampa  Bay ranked No. 2.

A couple of rather obvious thoughts. At the moment, this is not a close race. Dallas and Raleigh-Durham have emerged as the clear-cut winners by a considerable margin. Both metro areas are either No. 1 or No. 2 in every single category. Jacksonville and Atlanta are way behind but are close competitors with one another. And then there is the Tampa Bay area. These categories, like education or transportation, are not the types of things that can be improved rapidly, especially when other metro areas also are trying to raise their own bars.

"This is like running a race. We're running fast but they're running faster," said Partnership business intelligence officer Larry Henson, referring to why we still declined relative to our five comparison cities when our raw data has improved in several categories.

If we were not all so distracted by recession, a stock market gone haywire and a federal bailout that seems to morph by the minute, we'd be hitting the panic button on this. In the Bigger Game out there, we're not cutting it.

This report card cuts both ways. Kudos for the Partnership for acknowledging our warts and need for improvement. But realize anyone business or talented person looking at this report card will be asking: Why go there?

We fell most dramatically like a rock because our job market has crumbled from growth engine to black hole. Florida's overpriced housing market -- and that includes measuring how affordable it is to people working here -- also still suffers in last place despite startling drops in home prices these past 18 months.

Take a look for yourself.

Regional Economic Scorecard - Fall 2008

Tampa Bay Atlanta Charlotte Dallas Jacksonville Raleigh
Jobs/workforce 6 5 3 1 4 2
Income/productivity 3 (4)* 6 5 1 4 2
Housing 6 4 4 1 3 2
Innovation 5 2 4 2 6 1
Education 3 4 6 2 5 1
Transportation 6 (4)* 5 2 2 4 1
Overall 29 26 24 9 26 9
Rank 6 4 3 1 4 1

*Number in parentheses indicates a change in ranking from the previous scorecard and shows Tampa Bay's Spring 2008 scorecard ranking in this category.

The Tampa Bay Partnership does point to a few positives in these dismal numbers:

* First, Tampa Bay was one of only two regions measured that are experiencing positive growth in housing permit activity.

* Second, Tampa Bay’s ranking for Income and Productivity improved with indicators for wage growth, household income and per-capita income all contributing to the increase. But the numbers for this category are 14 months old and do not reflect the more recent and sharper job losses in this area.

* Third, in the Innovation category, the ranking for patents (a subgroup used in the overall ranking) improved.

In the Transportation category, which was a recently added component, data for the Tampa Bay region showed improvement for every indicator except "vehicle miles traveled per capita" -- a measure of sprawl. But our rankings still fell because the other metro areas made greater improvements.

The Partnership, which represents this metro area's seven counties, says it is addressing the challenges documented in the last several scorecards through its new three-year strategic plan dubbed "A model for prosperity" (read it here) which will be introduced Friday at its annual meeting and community update in Tampa.

We'll be there and report on the feedback based on this troubling report card. I don't know about you, but if this were my kid's report card, coming in dead last again, I'd ground him and make sure he was truly back on task. And as any parent knows, that's not as easy as it sounds.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist and James Thorner, Times Staff Writer         

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:23am]


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