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New data project by Tampa Bay Partnership opens a window on how the area is faring during the Covid-19 pandemic

Margie Manning

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The Tampa Bay Partnership wants to use data to get a better picture of how the region is standing up during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The partnership — a privately funded, CEO-driven regional advocacy organization — is launching a new series of data reports tracking the impact of the pandemic on the state of the region.

Rick Homans

The initiative builds on the regional competitiveness report the Partnership produces each year.

The Partnership introduced the Covid-19 data series last week and the first report, expected to be released Wednesday, will assess the vulnerability and the risk level for Tampa Bay from an economic standpoint, Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Partnership, told the St. Pete Catalyst.

“From the data we look at every year, we know we have below average wages. We know we have an abundance of workers in the hospitality and service industries like retail, and we also know those are the industries that have been hit the hardest with the shutdowns and people going on unemployment. We want to look at how Tampa Bay compares to other communities across the country, in terms of how vulnerable we are, and within our population, who are the groups are most vulnerable and what kind of experience are they having,” Homans said.

“The strange thing that’s happened during this pandemic is we are all isolated and the only way to see each other is through data. That’s what we want to do. We want to provide a window to look at our neighbors throughout Tampa Bay through good empirical accurate data, and get a better understanding of how we are all faring together against this invisible disease.”

The Partnership is working with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, United Way Suncoast and University of South Florida Muma School of Business on the Covid-19 data project. It is looking at both public and proprietary data, and also plans a periodic sentiment survey conducted every two weeks to probe how residents of Tampa Bay area feeling on a variety of topics.

“The survey will give us a lot of information that we’re not able to get through public sources. For example, we don’t know how many people are unemployed because the unemployment system is not working. We don’t know what kind of symptoms people feel because there is not the level of testing we need to know that. We don’t know what is happening to people’s savings accounts, if they had one to begin with. The survey will begin to give us a window into that,” Homans said.

The partnership also will tap data on real-time labor market information that will provide a clearer picture of jobs lost and companies that are hiring.

“We’ll see which industries are hit hardest and which industries are actually hiring people and growing during this time,” Homans said. “That will be very important as we move from the decline into the recovery, because we’ll have a unique opportunity to retrain people who are unemployed with specific skills to move into possibly better jobs than they had before.”

That includes critically needed digital skills.

“Perhaps there’s an opportunity during this time to engage in training programs, while people are out of work, we are giving them the opportunity to develop the skills for the jobs that will emerge post-pandemic,” Homans said.

The USF Muma College will provide data on internet search trends. The United Way is tracking 211 calls asking for help with health and finances, as well as keeping in touch with social service providers. The Community Foundation has created a database of all of the organizations providing assistance in the market.

The Partnership has assembled a list of about 1,000 decision-makers — public, private and nonprofit leaders. “This is our way to try to give to them another source of good data to understand what’s going on so they can make better decisions.”

The crisis already has led to a heightened sense of community, and activated unprecedented community response, Homans said.

“We all play a role and we can all pitch in, and hopefully that will sustain itself post-pandemic,” he said. “I think we’ll all get a better view of the ‘safety nets’ that we have in our community – whether it is lack of savings or systems at the state and local levels, some of which are very well prepared and others that have broken down. We have to look at that carefully as we come through this and rebuild in a more secure way.”

Sign up here to subscribe to the Covid-19 reports.

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