Tampa Bay’s gross domestic product fell by nearly $2.4 billion in 2020, a drop tied to the coronavirus pandemic that played out in a majority of counties and metropolitan areas nationwide.
In all, about 75 percent of U.S. counties saw a GDP decline last year, including six of eight in the Tampa Bay area, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
As with the nation as a whole, county-level GDP offers a broad picture of a region’s economic health, putting a number to the value of all goods and services produced over a period, minus the value of goods and services used to produce them. The Bureau of Economic Analysis releases county-level data for each year the following December.
Tampa Bay’s dramatic drop in economic production was expected, said Mike Snipes, an instructor of economics at the University of South Florida. While every local county saw boosts to their finance, insurance and real estate industries, none of it was enough to offset the pandemic’s impact on entertainment and hospitality.
“When you’ve got an economy, especially around here, that’s so heavily based on tourism, and that’s the industry that got affected the most, that’s going to have a pretty dramatic effect,” Snipes said. “So it’s not too terribly much of a surprise.”
The region’s biggest economy, Hillsborough County, saw the biggest decline, dropping 1.9 percent from $85.2 billion to $83.6 billion, followed by Sarasota County, which fell 1.8 percent to $19.3 billion. Pinellas County’s GDP fell by $658.4 million, or 1.4 percent, to $45.7 billion.
Polk County’s GDP rose 1.8 percent to $25.3 billion. Pasco County’s rose 0.6 percent to $12.3 billion, which was the smallest GDP of any of the 141 counties with a population of more than 500,000, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
All Tampa Bay counties outperformed the state as a whole, which saw its GDP drop $27.6 billion, or 2.8 percent, to $944 billion. While smaller Monroe County saw the biggest GDP drop-off at 5.7 percent, the state’s two largest county economies, Miami-Dade and Broward, were right behind at 5.5 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively.
Both Tampa Bay and Florida fared better than the rest of the United States, whose GDP fell 3.4 percent from 2019 to 2020.
“Part of the reason why Florida didn’t necessarily get hit as much as the rest of the country was probably the governor’s decision to try and keep things open as much as possible,” Snipes said. “It’s certainly going to have other effects. We got hit hard with deaths and hospitalizations with COVID, and that’s not to be discounted at all. But if all we’re doing is focusing solely on that one specific number, that’s probably a big driver for why we didn’t get hit as hard as other places.”
The GDP declines are based on a year-to-year comparison to 2019 and don’t factor in economic growth projected before the pandemic. An October analysis by the Tampa Bay Times found that when accounting for pre-2020 growth trends, the region likely lost out on at least $10 billion in consumer spending, which accounts for around 70 percent of GDP.
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By September 2020, the Times analysis found, consumer spending had largely returned to pre-pandemic expectations — which may account for why Tampa Bay’s GDP hit wasn’t as severe as the overall state’s.
“Tampa’s always had a pretty strong economy,” Snipes said.
While gross domestic product offers a broad snapshot of an area’s economic health, it’s not a complete portrait, Snipes said. Other useful measures include household income, which in Florida dropped from 2019 to 2020; and labor force participation, which in October remained lower in Florida than at any point in the decade before the pandemic.
When regional GDP data for 2021 is released in late 2022, Snipes expects an improved overall picture. But he’s not certain the local economy will be fully back where it was before the pandemic, when nearly every county for years saw annual GDP increases.
“This was such a seismic change, and such a seismic shock to the economy, that I wouldn’t expect it to be back to 2019 levels,” he said. “My anticipation for 2022 is that we probably won’t be back to where we were. But it’ll look better than 2020.”