As much as Tampa Bay’s grown in recent years, when you compare it to markets of a similar size, it still sits largely in the middle of the pack.
So concludes a new annual report from the Tampa Bay Partnership, a coalition of local business leaders that regularly studies regional civic and economic issues, with aims of improving local quality of life.
The partnership’s fifth annual Regional Competitiveness Report, released Tuesday, once again compared Tampa Bay to similar metro areas inside and outside Florida, from Miami and Orlando to Charlotte and Nashville. The study found that the region lagged near the middle or bottom in categories like job growth rate, gross regional product and the nurturing of talent and innovation.
At the same time, net migration into Tampa Bay sat behind only Austin, reflecting outsiders’ eagerness to move to the area. And while average annual wages of $53,764 sat barely above last-place Orlando, median household net worth — boosted partly by skyrocketing real estate values — shot up to $189,004, a seven-spot rise to No. 4.
“Where Florida and Tampa Bay does pretty well is, we’re attractive to people,” said Dave Sobush, the partnership’s director of policy and research. “But we are not generating the same level of economic activity — and the economic activity that we are generating is not being enjoyed by as wide a swath of the population as it is in other markets.”
Out of dozens of categories measured by the partnership, Tampa Bay made the top five only 12.5 percent of the time, and not once did it rank No. 1. It landed in the bottom five 39.6 percent of the time.
That Tampa Bay generally sits in the mid-to-low sections of these rankings isn’t necessarily a sign of flagging economic health, said Tampa Bay Partnership president and CEO Bemetra Simmons.
“Some of the markets (in the study) are truly peers, and some are truly aspirational,” Simmons said. “With that in mind, it would make sense for us to sit there in the middle a little bit.”
Other highlights from this year’s report, which is based on data from government and other official sources:
- Tampa Bay’s per capita gross regional product, or the value of all goods produced per resident, ranked dead last at $41,620, less than half of No. 1 Seattle at $94,099. That’s down more than 1.1 percent from the year before — but even that is better than most markets fared. Among the report’s 20 markets, only Austin saw its gross regional product go up.
- Tampa Bay’s job growth rate was up 5.27 percent from the year before, when unemployment shot through the roof due to the pandemic. But that was only good enough for 16th on the list, well behind No. 1 Orlando, whose 8.22 percent growth rate also had a lot to do with that area recovering from dramatic job losses in 2020.
- Tampa Bay’s average annual wages sat at $53,764, only good enough for 19th on the list, well behind No. 1 Seattle at $94,710. It fared slightly better in the service sector, with average wages sitting at No. 14 at $30,566, far behind, again, Seattle at $69,336. And poverty rates among youths and workers both sat below the national average.
- For the area’s talent pipeline, while the regional high school graduation rate was up, its degree and certificate production rate stayed the same at 15th and 11th on the list, respectively. And Tampa Bay ranked next to last in attainment rate of associate’s, bachelor’s and graduate degrees, far behind No. 1 Raleigh and Durham, N.C.
- Tampa Bay fared slightly better than last year in housing and transportation affordability, measured as a percentage of income. But it still ranked 16th on both lists, well behind Minneapolis-St. Paul at No. 1.
- Transportation remains one of the region’s biggest problems, with the region finishing last or second to last in transit ridership and pedestrian and cyclist fatality rates. One bright spot was the air travel industry. All markets saw passenger dropoffs during the pandemic, but Tampa Bay fared better than most, with only three other markets — including No. 1 Charlotte — seeing faster recoveries.
- At the research and innovation level, the area sat near the bottom of the list in terms of university research and development expenditures, federal grants and patents per capita.
“We’ve got a great core of research and academics at USF that generates patents,” Sobush said. “The real story is that most patents are generated by private industry. USF by itself cannot move Tampa Bay up these ranks.”
Businesses, charities and other organizations use the Regional Competitiveness Report and other Tampa Bay Partnership data to shape programs and policies on a range of issues, often over a long period of time.
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“What the data tells us is these are not things that are going to get solved in one-year increments,” Simmons said. “It’s important that we take a look at this from a long-term viewpoint, not only where we’ve been, but how we get there. You’re not going to solve housing or transportation or affordability in a 12-month period.”