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The Tampa Bay area in better economic shape to weather the next recession, whenever it arrives.

Financial advisers preach diversification. A balanced portfolio, they say, guards against a bad investment ruining your retirement plans.

Same goes for a local economy. Diverse equals resilient. It takes the edge off when things turn south, making for a smoother landing.

Just ask anyone who works in a one-company town what happens when that company closes down.

Which brings me to the Tampa Bay area. Over the past decade, we've made strides in rounding out our economy.

The latest proof comes courtesy of Chmura Economics & Analytics. The research firm crunched an impressive amount of federal data to come up with a ranking of which cities and counties had the most diverse economies. That is, the most balanced.

Our metro area ranked eighth in the country, and Hillsborough came in fourth out of more than 3,100 counties.

The firm's chief quality officer, Greg Chmura, said our impressive job growth over the past decade helped expand several industries. Finance and insurance, for instance, grew much faster than the national average.

Economic diversity often pays off in lower unemployment. The benefit can be most pronounced during the hardest times. Chmura found that from 2009 to 2011, the unemployment rates in the 25 most diverse cities were about one percentage point lower than in the 25 least diverse.

"In general, the improvements should help you weather the next storm," he said.

Though it's not guaranteed. Think back to the Great Recession, which clobbered construction and real estate. Despite some progress, we remain overweighted in those industries, compared to national averages.

Also, health care and education tend to be more stable during downturns. We employ an average number of people in health care, but lag the national average for education. That could make for a bumpier ride during hard times.

Craig J. Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, said further diversifying the local economy remains a top priority.

"Having a diversified economy helps our region become stronger, more resilient, and more competitive," he said.

Philadelphia and Chicago were the most economically diverse cities. In Florida, Tampa Bay placed well ahead of Jacksonville and Miami, which rounded out the state's top three.

As for counties, Arizona's Maricopa, home to Phoenix, topped the list. California's San Diego County and Cook County (Chicago) narrowly beat out Hillsborough for second and third.

Filling out the top five counties in Florida: Broward, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Duval. Pinellas placed sixth, Pasco 16th, Manatee 17th, Hernando 26th and Citrus 31st.

Lightly populated counties in the Panhandle and the interior of the state dominated the bottom of the list. Little surprise given that rural areas — many of which aren't growing very fast, if at all — often struggle to attract new industries.

Anyone living here for the last recession remembers how scary it got. That we have improved our position before the next downturn is welcome news.

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