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Robert Trigaux

Survey: For businesses, Tampa Bay in freefall

2

December

Wake up and good morning. Holy plummet! I figured we'd be dropping fast but never at this pace. And I'm not even talking about the stock market... A new survey by MarketWatch (it's part of Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal) ranking the best and worst cities for business hammers the Tampa-St. Petersburg market as the metro area nationwide most in freefall. The commentary is extremely rough.

"One reason is the bursting of the real-estate bubble. The linchpin for much of the nation's current economic turmoil took a toll on sunny regions where speculators invaded the market and kept flipping properties. That was especially true in the twin cities of Tampa-St. Petersburg, the only new entry to the bottom 10 list this year. Area economists now say that 2009 will be a 'lost year' economically because of it."

"You can just write it off right now" -- "it" being the Tampa Bay market -- Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida, told MarketWatch.

According to the MarketWatch survey, the housing bubble wreaked havoc on the Tampa-St. Pete region's business and job picture in particular. The area's score dropped by a whopping 55 points and it plunged 14 spots down the overall list. That put it at No. 44, tied with Los Angeles, and was the only Florida area in the Bottom 10 of the 50 cities listed. (Miami missed the Bottom 10 by one post.) Here are the best and worst, and you can see the complete list here.

Here are the best Top 10:

1. Minneapolis-St. Paul
2. Boston
3. Denver
4. Washington, D.C.
5. Richmond
6. Charlotte
7. Columbus
8. Nashville
9. Dallas
10. San Francisco

And here are the worst, the Bottom 10:
41. San Antonio
42. Virginia Beach
43. Detroit
44. Tampa-St. Petersburg
45. Los Angeles
46. Rochester
47. Sacramento
48. Tucson
49. Buffalo
50. New Orleans

Six out of the 10 worst metro areas for business are warm-weather cities, including two cities in California and one each in Arizona, Florida, Texas and Louisiana. Take into account the bottom 20, and 11 of those are warm-weather towns. Somehow Jacksonville ranked No. 21, highest of the three surveyed cities in Florida.

So how exactly did Tampa Bay fare so badly?
It lost ground on the Fortune and Forbes lists, as two companies fell off from each. But Tampa-St. Pete fell sharpest in the small-business category. Housing speculators have left the region reeling, with only Miami feeling the pinch worse, according to MarketWatch. The effects from that extended to small business. It probably will only get worse as newer data come in. Tampa-St. Pete dropped 18 points down in the small-business rankings, second only to Miami's 20-point plunge.

How did Marketwatch come up with this ranking? Here's the full methodology and, as such surveys go, it's pretty comprehensive except it does not include a "quality of life" ranking which surely would have helped the Tampa Bay market at least a bit.

Did this ranking shock me? No, but I am surprised at the severity of the Tampa Bay decline. We already knew the area was hurting because the Tampa Bay Partnership had issued it report card on the area, comparing Tampa Bay to five other metro areas (Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Raleigh-Durham). We were on the bottom of that list, as reported here by the St. Petersburg Times last month.

So if we're so dicey these days, what makes No. 1 Minneapolis-St. Paul, stuck up there in the Snow Belt, so special for business? According to MarketWatch, it's got plenty of homegrown big companies (we have very few), it's exceedingly friendly to small businesses (apparently we are not as much as we need to be), and it's brimming with a capable, smart workforce (I won't even bother to say where we stand in that arena).

Consider this final comment from an executive at Traveler's in St. Paul, which has been sustained in part by a highly ranked school system and the network of higher-education providers in the region.

"It's a very educated workforce," said Andy Bessette, Traveler's chief administrative officer. "The people here, the school systems, are very good."

Enough said.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 12:23pm]

    

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