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Tampa Bay ranks among nation's fastest-growing metro economies

Can you feel the surge?

Tampa Bay's economy ranks among the 20 fastest-growing metro areas in the country this year, and the momentum is expected to carry into 2014.

With a 3.2 percent growth rate, Tampa Bay came in 16th out of 363 metros, according to a U.S. Conference of Mayors analysis released Monday. It's expected to grow 2.8 percent next year.

That's not only better than any other Florida metro area, it counters an economic funk afflicting an increasing number of cities.

Overall, the report found the nation's cities struggling more this year than last, with roughly a third showing flat or declining economies. Of the two-thirds in positive territory, nearly 40 percent were growing by 1 percent or less.

Scott Smith, mayor of Mesa, Ariz., and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said the slowdown should be a caution for politicians in Washington.

"Because the recovery is still very fragile, we cannot afford manufactured crises like sequestration, the debt ceiling battle and the federal government shutdown," he said. "So it is important that Washington not return to dysfunction, which has real economic consequences in our cities and on Main Street."

Although Texas cities dominated the list of fastest growing, nine of the 50 best performers were in the housing bubble states of Florida, California and Arizona.

Ali Glisson, public affairs director with the city of Tampa, said recent anecdotal evidence bears out Tampa Bay's revival.

"With big wins recently in attracting nonstop flights to Panama City via Copa Airlines, (the) new Amports terminal at the Port of Tampa, Synergy Health's relocation downtown, and HealthPlan Services' expansion, Tampa continues to lead Florida out of the recession," Glisson said.

However, Jim Diffley of IHS Global Insight, the author of the metro report, cautioned Tampa Bay to temper its enthusiasm because it's still playing catchup from the housing bust.

"Go back to 2006 or 2005 and say, 'How have we progressed from there?' " he said. "It was a very, very deep hole."

After the Great Recession ended in 2009, Tampa Bay was slow to bounce back. In fact, the bay area's economic recovery ranked among the weakest in the country in 2010 and 2011, according to the Brookings Institution.

Since then it has been another story. Tampa Bay is now the biggest job generator among Florida metros, adding nearly 42,000 jobs between September 2012 and September 2013, the most recent figures available.

Diffley projects that Tampa Bay should climb back to its peak 2007 job level sometime in the first half of 2015.

Based on Monday's report, Tampa Bay has a gross metro product, or economic output, totaling $125.5 billion this year making it the 22nd-most productive metro in the country. Compared to countries, the size of Tampa Bay's economy would fall between Hungary and Bangladesh.

If the forecast holds up, the bay area's economic output will total $131.5 billion next year, putting it on par with Pittsburgh.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8242.

Tampa Bay ranks among nation's fastest-growing metro economies 11/18/13 [Last modified: Monday, November 18, 2013 8:08pm]
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