Tampa Bay narrowed the gap a little, but its economy still lags compared to those of other major Southeastern metro areas.
The bay area ranked fifth among six metro areas tracked by the Tampa Bay Partnership's regional economic scorecard, a semiannual comparison that ranks metros by criteria such as housing; employment and work force; income and productivity; innovation; and education and transportation.
The bay area has finished in fifth or sixth place in the past three surveys, with only Jacksonville posting a poorer showing. Raleigh-Durham, N.C., by far, continues to rank as the strongest metro area.
Report developers said the improvement in the bay area's employment numbers was a sign it is emerging from the recession.
"This scorecard shows that we are moving in the right direction, but need to ramp up the momentum in innovation, employment, income and productivity," said Mike Vail, president and chief operating officer of Sweetbay Supermarket and chair of the scorecard initiative.
Among the bright spots: Tampa Bay gained more than 2,700 jobs since the last scorecard in March, the first job gains since the summer of 2007. It also posted average wage growth of 2.36 percent, reversing the 1.49 percent decline in wages last time, which was the first wage drop it had seen in five years' worth of scorecards. Housing affordability also improved, but that was only because home prices have fallen in this foreclosure-saturated market.
In addition to the regular scorecard, the partnership also released a review analyzing 11 editions of the scorecard dating back to 2006 to get a better sense of how Tampa Bay has endured the recession. Over the longer time frame, Tampa Bay ranked fourth among metro areas.
Dave Sobush, the partnership's point person for assembling the report card, said future versions may be tweaked, possibly including comparison data on the size of business establishments and birth and death of small businesses in a given community.
When the scorecard debuted five years ago, Tampa Bay ranked second best, as it was enjoying record low unemployment at the time. But Tampa Bay Partnership CEO Stu Rogel said that despite the initial high showing, the report card was never intended to be a marketing tool. Rather, it was a way to gauge what the region was doing right and how it could learn from other metros.
The biggest lesson the group has learned: Education is key if Tampa Bay is to improve. Two of the top performers for most of the scorecards, Raleigh and Dallas, both consistently scored well in education and innovation.
John Schueler, chairman of the partnership, said the data in the scorecard will be used to help the group prepare its next three-year strategic plan, focusing on such critical issues. In one recent initiative, the partnership is working with others in economic development, education and industry to identify and grow the next generation of jobs that they see as being sustainable.