How economically competitive is Tampa Bay versus similar cities?

Tampa Bay lags behind similar cities in several important economic measures.
The downtown Tampa skyline, looking north from south of the Kennedy Street Bridge. (Times file, 2014)
The downtown Tampa skyline, looking north from south of the Kennedy Street Bridge. (Times file, 2014)
Published Dec. 12, 2018|Updated Dec. 13, 2018

The Tampa Bay Partnership released its second annual Regional Competitiveness Report on Wednesday. It measures the Tampa Bay area against 19 similar metro areas. Not the biggies like Los Angeles or New York. Think Nashville, Denver, Dallas, Seattle and Orlando.

The report, written in collaboration with the United Way Suncoast and the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, uses 55 measures to dig deep into a half-dozen categories, including innovation, talent, civic quality and infrastructure — the types of things that help attract companies, retain workers and make an area a vital place to live and work.

Bottom line, we have a lot of work to do to keep up, let alone overtake, some of our peer cities. We're improving in many areas including how much our universities spend on research and development and the share of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in school. But we're already behind and losing ground in too many others.

The report looks at our eight-county area — Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Polk, Sarasota and Manatee.

I'll be writing more about these measures in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are some quick takeaways:

The Good

  • We were tops in net migration. In other words, our population grew at a faster rate than any of the other 19 cities. The fact that people want to come to Tampa Bay continues to be an asset, as it indicates they have a generally positive outlook on the area. That said, we need to grow smart or we’ll lose that advantage.
  • Tampa Bay placed fifth out of the 20 cities in business start-ups, what the report calls the “business establishment start rate.” It’s a key measure of an area’s entrepreneurial environment and a decent indicator that businesses aren’t overburdened by regulations or bureaucratic red tape.
  • It might not feel this way, but the traffic on our roads isn’t as bad as many of our peer cities. At 22 hours, we ranked fourth in driving time spent in congestion each year. Raleigh-Durham came in at No. 1 with 15 hours. Atlanta was last at 70 hours. At 8.3 percent, our share of workers with a commute of at least an hour was middle of the pack.
  • Our crime rate was second-lowest, behind San Diego’s, and the violent crime was fourth-best. Safety is a baseline requirement for companies or workers thinking of relocating. Scoring well in these categories, combined with the area’s natural assets like access to the water, can be a top selling point for Tampa Bay.

The Bad

  • Tampa Bay ranked dead last in the economic output of advanced industries, including technology companies. We have a ways to go just to catch St. Louis, which ranked 19th. Austin ranked No. 1 followed closely by Orlando.
  • By one measure, we lag in knowledge creation and the development of intellectual property. The area produced a paltry 3.32 patents per 10,000 residents, landing us at 17th overall. That’s well behind San Diego (24.05), Seattle (22.15) and the national average (10.79). The silver lining is that we are improving in that measure, but we are starting from a long way back.
  • We aren’t as affordable as we often think. Tampa Bay came in 17th in one measure that calculated how much of our incomes we spend on housing and transportation. It doesn’t help that we rank 19th in average wage.
  • We kill a lot of pedestrians (second-highest rate) and have the lowest transit ridership rate, thanks to a meager bus system and no light or commuter rail.
  • We aren’t ranked in the top 10 in any of the dozen measures of talent, including educational attainment and labor force participation.

Fast facts

  • 4.7 million people live in the eight-county area, up by 485,000 since 2010. By 2023, it will be 5 million. Manatee is expected to grow the fastest; Pinellas the slowest, though even it will grow by about 4 percent.
  • Hillsborough has the youngest population, average age 37.1. Citrus is the oldest at 57.6. The state average is 42.3, a few years older than the national average of 38.3.
  • The average household income was $52,274. Sarasota was highest at more than $58,000. Citrus was lowest at under $43,600.

*The 20 metro areas: Austin, Denver, St. Louis, Atlanta, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Seattle, Nashville, Portland (Oregon), Minneapolis-St. Paul, Baltimore, Orlando, Jacksonville, South Florida (Miami) and Tampa Bay.

Click here to view the report.