Tampa Bay remained stuck in the middle of the pack in an economic showdown with Sun Belt competitors Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Jacksonville and Raleigh-Durham.
In the latest Regional Economic Scorecard put out by the Tampa Bay Partnership, Tampa Bay placed third among six metro areas. Raleigh-Durham was first, and Atlanta was last.
The scorecard measures six economic drivers of interest to job-producing companies: employment and work force; income and productivity; housing; innovation; education; and transportation.
Tampa Bay's biggest improvement was in the income category. Average wages rose 0.38 percent from early 2008 to early 2009, the latest data available. In the other five cities, wages fell.
Despite Tampa Bay's lackluster commuter bus and rail system, the region also moved up a notch in the transportation category. That's because more people stayed off the highways, a dubious achievement if it stemmed from unemployed people stuck at home.
Tampa Bay Partnership president Stuart Rogel, whose organization markets the seven-county region surrounding Tampa, said companies continue to scout the area without pulling the trigger. We're strongest in the fields of health, education and life sciences, Rogel said.
When might more jobs arrive? Rogel's best guess was the second half of this year and certainly by 2011.
"We're at the bottom of a very long downturn," he said.
In the last scorecard, compiled in the spring of 2009, Tampa Bay also placed third. Since the score keeping started in 2006, Tampa Bay has bounced between second and sixth place.
The housing category illustrates the difficulty of measuring economic competitiveness. Housing "affordability" has stagnated since the spring, reflecting home price stabilization. Though that's a minus for new arrivals hunting for housing discounts, it's good for existing homeowners.
"The scorecard clearly illustrates the impact the recessionary period is having on all the comparison regions," said Mike Vail, president of Sweetbay Supermarket, who leads the scorecard initiative for the Partnership.
"Volatility in the job and home markets has affected the economies from region to region, in some cases, more severely than Tampa Bay."