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Tampa Bay's GDP growth above average — and not so good

Tampa Bay's gross domestic product continued to expand steadily in the past several years. The GDP may have taken a licking — to paraphrase the old Timex watch ads — but it has kept on ticking.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area in 2014 recorded a $118 billion GDP, a measure of economic output, up 2.7 percent from the GDP of 2013. That performance landed Tampa Bay's GDP growth at No. 11 in Florida — smack dab in the middle of 22 state metro areas. The figures were included in a U.S. Department of Commerce survey of GDP growth in 381 larger metro areas.

Natinally, the metro area GDPs averaged 2.3 percent growth in 2014. Tampa Bay's above-average expansion ranked 90th in the U.S.

Is that good? Yes. And not so much.

It's good because being No. 90 among 381 metro areas countrywide places Tampa Bay in the top quarter of GDP growth. And between 2012 through 2014, this metro area's GDP has barely wavered from a growth rate between 2.6 and 2.7 percent. Many regions of the country would be envious of that steady — and positive — pace.

It's not so good because Tampa Bay's 2014 GDP growth trailed behind every other larger metro area in Florida. Miami-Fort Lauderdale, the greater Orlando area and even Jacksonville all posted growth rates higher than Tampa Bay last year, according to the most recent annual data available.

Still, Tampa Bay has still got sheer economic clout. Its $118 billion in GDP last year was second in size only to the much larger metro area encompassed by Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, whose combined GDP was $273.4 billion.

The fastest growing metro GDPs in the state last year were the east coast's Sebastian-Vero Beach and the greater Naples area on the southern Gulf coast. Both grew 5.6 percent, placing them at a very respectable No. 21 and No. 22 on the national list.

Orlando's GDP grew slightly faster than Tampa Bay's in 2014 but slower than this metro area in both 2013 and 2012. Orlando's GDP totaled $106.8 billion last year. That's third in metro GDP size in the state, and only $11.2 billion smaller than Tampa Bay's economic output.

Some economists predict Orlando will eventually pass Tampa Bay in GDP size, and even in population, for several reasons. Tampa Bay is geographically limited in size to the west because it sits on the Gulf of Mexico.

Also, Pinellas County's high density and expected tiny rate of population growth ahead will slow Tampa Bay's overall growth because the county offers few large tracts of open land to attract large-scale business expansion. To the extent that open land encourages growth, the Orlando area can pretty much expand in any direction.

Trailing at Florida's No. 4 in GDP size is Jacksonville at $59.6 billion, roughly half as big as the Tampa Bay economy.

Not all Florida metro areas grew their GDP last year, a signal the so-called recovery is inconsistent across the state — in spite of upbeat calls by state political leaders that Florida's economy is vibrant and its low unemployment rate means plenty of jobs to go around.

Four of Florida's 22 metro areas in the Commerce Department survey registered GDP declines in 2014. The Lakeland metro area saw its GDP slip 0.8 percent last year, while the Panhandle area around Destin and Sebring in central Florida also saw declines.

The biggest GDP loser: the Homosassa Springs metro area, encompassing Citrus County and Crystal River. It fell a striking 7.5 percent last year — largely an economic victim of the early and permanent closing of Duke Energy's Crystal River nuclear power plant.

While more than 100 of the nation's 381 metro areas saw their GDPs in 2014 shrink Homosassa's was the deepest decline by a wide margin.

Citrus County's got a lot of economic ground to make up.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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