Tampa City Council Member Bill Carlson, who represents the city’s fourth district, has released the latest findings from his “Tampa Scorecard” project that aims to provide the unvarnished truth about the city and its socioeconomic progress, or lack thereof, as he sees it.
Carlson, speaking to the Catalyst, said his goal is to provide a science-based alternative to the “vanity reports” that often look at regions like Tampa Bay as a whole instead of measuring city-only data.
“When economic development people, especially in Florida, present the numbers to relocation candidates, they’re presented in a positive light, because they want people to think positively about the area,” Carlson said. “The problem now that the best companies in the world can easily Google the real numbers. From an economic point of view, Tampa completely failed over the past 10 years. The past 10 years were one of the greatest booms in American history, but the middle class in Tampa shrank.”
The Tampa Scorecard compared Tampa to three benchmark cities — Atlanta, Austin and Charlotte, N.C. — as well as Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and St. Petersburg. To make the findings as academically sound as possible, Carlson enlisted the help of Alexander Frei, a graduate student in economics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Prior to enrolling at UNCC, Frei was an economics student at the University of South Florida and a Tampa City Council intern. USF Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem also consulted on the project.
The key finding, Carlson said, was that St. Pete, for the first time “in recent memory,” overtook Tampa in terms of per capita income. Tampa also trailed all four benchmark cities in per capita income.
“What this study shows is that the regional numbers are improved because St. Pete does better than Tampa,” he said. “So St. Pete is actually leading the region.”
Carlson said it’s important to study city-only data because it can reveal important disparities and shortcomings that might not show up in a regional analysis.
“Imagine that you have a company with multiple subsidiaries,” Carlson said. “If you measure the overall data, it may look like it’s doing well, but you can’t find the problem areas unless you also look at all the data in the system.”
For example, even though Tampa has the third-highest per capita income among Florida cities, performance in that category is driven by the fact that 9.4 percent of the population earns $200,000 or more per year. That’s second only to Fort Lauderdale, at 10.6 percent. However, as you might expect, Tampa fares poorly in terms of income equality — in fact, it’s one of the most unequal Florida cities, with women, on average, making $9,154 less per year than men. And, with a gap of $21,051, Tampa’s income disparity between African Americans and Caucasians is second worst in the state.
“We do really well with people making $200,000 and above,” Carlson said, “but the only way to move our numbers up is to build the middle class and address poverty issues. And I think the number one way to do that is to promote entrepreneurship, to build entrepreneurship across our community. Entrepreneurship creates the most wealth and builds multi-generational wealth. And it creates the most jobs in the United States.”
Click here to view and download the full Tampa Scorecard report.