TAMPA — A think tank analyst who tracks how the world's metropolitan area economies grow told a business audience Thursday that Tampa Bay may be returning to its pre-recession days in employment but is lagging in general prosperity — mainly due to a hollowing out of middle wage jobs.
"We have not achieved pre-recession levels for median household incomes yet," said Marek Gootman, a fellow and director of strategic partnerships and global initiatives at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "We are having trouble with middle-income jobs that are shrinking. Economic success cannot just be about job growth."
The U.S. economy last year improved dramatically with the nation's top 100 metro areas all adding jobs, Gootman told a gathering of the Tampa Bay Partnership economic development group. But based on prosperity, measured in part by individual productivity, less than half of those metros improved.
Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Rick Homans, asked Gootman to clarify a presentation slide showing a U.S. map of the United States with major metro locations labeled as either orange or white dots. All of the Florida metro areas, including Tampa Bay where the jobless rate now stands at 4.5 percent, were white.
"Those," said Gootman indicating the white dots, "would be bad."
The Tampa Bay Partnership is currently involved in an extensive research effort — with input from a wide range of business, government and community groups in this metro area — to create a set of economic indicators to help Tampa Bay better track where it stands. The final product is expected to be completed by late 2017.
In an interview, Gootman said Tampa Bay felt more urgent shortly after the rough recession to diversify and improve its economy. With jobs more plentiful, even if they do not pay as well, some of that urgency is gone — a trend that can be seen elsewhere as well.
To be more competitive, Tampa Bay needs to decide what it is specifically good at and then tell the world, the Brookings expert suggested. Other metros of similar size are already pursuing such strategies.
Milwaukee, partly from its beer-making heritage, developed an expertise in water technology, Gootman said, and has had economic success touting that niche. Other midwestern metros have carved out expertise and art building a name for themselves in such spheres as medical device manufacturing and using innovative technology to improve how the insurance industry works. Atlanta is gaining an international name for itself in logistics.
Asked Gootman: "What is Tampa Bay best at doing?" If the answer is not obvious, he said, sometime a metro has to look at its best assets and choose what it wants to be known for.
Contact Robert Trigaux at email@example.com. Follow @venturetampabay.