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Pandemic projected to hit Tampa Bay and Florida harder than rest of U.S.

A new Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council analysis projects losses of more than 10 percent to employment, personal income and total economic output.
The beach closed sign where people fish, launch kayaks and kite boards near the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier on April 2 in St. Petersburg. Public beaches are closed to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The beach closed sign where people fish, launch kayaks and kite boards near the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier on April 2 in St. Petersburg. Public beaches are closed to help stop the spread of coronavirus. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Apr. 21, 2020
Updated Apr. 22, 2020

The Tampa Bay area and Florida are likely to feel more economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic than most parts of the country, a local analysis published Tuesday concludes.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Commission’s study said Florida has fewer diagnosed COVID-19 cases per capita than many states, but its economy is vulnerable because of the outsized role of tourism and hospitality, as well as the state government’s reliance on sales taxes.

For example, spending by foreign visitors, a big part of Pinellas County’s beach economy, is expected to drop by at least 20 percent.

Related: COVID-19 empties Tampa Bay hotels. What happens to their 150,000 employees?

“Even though the Tampa Bay area has relatively few of the state’s coronavirus cases — about 10 percent or less — its economy is likely to be influenced by a national and statewide downturn even more than actual infections or stress on area hospitals,” wrote the author, council director of planning and research Randy Deshazo.

As a result, if the pandemic causes a 10 percent economic contraction for the economy as a whole, the regional planning council says the bay area could see losses of:

• About 218,000 local jobs, or 10.6 percent of the bay area’s employment base of 2 million, due to lost business at hotels, restaurants and stores.

• An estimated $20.9 billion in total economic activity. That would translate to 11.7 percent of overall regional economic output, or gross domestic product, which was expected to be $179 billion this year.

• $19.9 billion in personal income, down 10.6 percent from the previously projected total of $187 billion for the region in 2020.

These losses will be driven by three main drivers, according to the planning council: economic losses resulting from COVID-19 deaths, a statewide drop in consumer spending and a national recession.

Related: The coronavirus recession is here. Will it linger in Florida?

Deaths hurt the economy through both a loss of spending and generation of demand for goods and services. Florida’s average age of 44 is higher than the national average of 42, the report noted, and COVID-19 kills patients 65 and older at a higher rate.

In turn, decreased consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of national economic activity, could be felt for a decade, the report concludes.

The planning council said it reached its conclusions after analyzing data from sources that include the World Health Organization, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and the Brookings Institute, and by using a well-known macroeconomic model to project the impacts. An updated report is expected in June.

“Smart decisions can only be made based on quality information,” regional planning council executive director Sean Sullivan said in announcing the findings. "We see our role as being one of the providers for such information.”

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