Despite a shaky housing market and somber jobs reports, the Tampa Bay area still owns a competitive advantage relative to the rest of the United States: It's cheap.
A study by site-selection consultant KPMG ranks the region the third-most-affordable place to do business among 27 U.S. and Puerto Rican metro areas.
The region's relatively low labor and building costs placed it third behind San Juan and Atlanta. Dallas shared third place with Tampa, and Baltimore was next.
The release of the study last week came as the region was craving a dose of good economic news. After a five-year expansion, Tampa had a net loss of about 50,000 jobs in 2007. The unemployment rate has crept up to 4.7 percent.
The Tampa Bay Partnership, the seven-county economic development group that markets the region to the world, views the study as a handy tool for business recruitment.
Chris Steinocher, the partnership's chief operating officer, already collected positive vibes at a trade show in Orlando last week. "It was well received," Steinocher said of the study. "It was like, 'Man, you are in the right place.' "
The partnership's own examination of the Tampa Bay area's strengths and weaknesses wasn't so upbeat. In its "economic scorecard dashboard report," which compares the bay area with five other Southern metro areas, Tampa slid from second to fourth in the past two years.
The scorecard measures Tampa against Jacksonville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas and Raleigh-Durham using such benchmarks as housing, employment, education and innovation.
Stuart Rogel, president of the partnership, predicted Tampa would rebound faster than many of its competitors, thanks in part to the strengths noted by KPMG. He said the current slowdown illustrates the danger of over-reliance on single industries like residential construction.
"One of the things the community should be asking itself is, where is the next round of jobs coming from?" Rogel said.
KPMG ranked the 27 regions by comparing costs such as labor, buildings, land, taxes, utilities and shipping. By those measures, Tampa's costs were 2.7 percent below the national average.