Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

In Tampa Bay, now we're growing and graying at the same time

We're growing again but getting grayer, too.

The Tampa Bay metro area will enjoy a solid if not booming return of population growth after several recession years when Florida lost or, at best, gained few residents.

What's more, Tampa Bay will be one of the faster aging metro areas in the United States.

Those are two key findings from some of the nation's top demographic experts who analyze population trends. That combination of more people moving here and more of them being over 60 raises some big challenges and opportunities for the Tampa Bay economy in the coming years.

For example, the phrase "over 60" once smacked of nursing homes and hospital beds. Yet most people moving here in the coming decade will be retiring baby boomers eager to spend money, enjoy entertainment and lead active lives that, demographers note, increasingly will include starting businesses.

On the flip side, the "graying" of Tampa Bay may make it tougher to ever call this metro area a hot or even lukewarm spot for young adults who tend to migrate where other young people cluster. These days, cities popular with those 20 to 35 range from Washington, D.C., and Houston and Austin in Texas to Denver, Portland and Seattle.

Still, Brookings Institution demographic guru Bill Frey says Florida is finally benefiting from rising immigration and some "thawing in the near frozen movement" to previously hot destinations in the Sun Belt. A recovering housing market and slowly improving job opportunities are helping that thaw.

Frey suggests in a recent analysis that the country may be starting "a national demographic revival, though one which may never approach the rapid growth heydays of the baby boom dominated 1950s and 1960s."

Another high-profile population watcher, Joel Kotkin, carves out a different trend, pointing to Tampa Bay as the country's second fastest graying metro market — behind Pittsburgh. At least 23.5 percent of the people here are over 60, Kotkin notes in a recent Forbes column, while only 17.4 percent are under the age of 15.

That the United States is aging is not news. Nationwide, 18.5 percent of the population is over 60, an age bracket that courtesy of baby boomers will rise to 25 percent by 2050. Weaker immigration and a slowdown in birth rates will hasten the country's aging.

The aging mix in Tampa Bay already puts this area close to what the country as a whole will look like by 2030.

Reading demographics can be tricky. While Tampa Bay may rank No. 2 as a graying metro area, that's happening here for different reasons than in many other aging cities. Other than Tampa Bay and Miami, all of the fastest aging metro areas are northern industrial relics like Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit. Those Rust Belt cities are getting older because so many young people have departed for more promising places, and because immigrants bypass them for warmer climates and perceived opportunities elsewhere.

But Tampa Bay and Miami are mostly growing older because of boomers heading this way.

Tampa Bay economic leaders have worked hard to try to keep young adults in this area. At best, that task has proven a mixed success, given the area's limited career options and a local unemployment rate that remains even higher for young people. Still, efforts to create job and social networks like Emerge Tampa, and for area community colleges to provide specific job training opportunities are helping.

As anyone who walks the 40,000-student University of South Florida campus in Tampa, or who was out in downtown St. Petersburg's First Night celebration for New Year's Eve well knows, there are plenty of young adults in this area.

They help keep all us gray hairs a little younger.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]

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