Click the arrow above to listen to the full interview with Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, and St. Pete Catalyst Finance Editor Margie Manning.
The Tampa Bay Partnership this year will begin convening community organizations to figure out how to put the region on a level playing field with similar communities nationwide.
Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Partnership, told the St. Pete Catalyst that’s the beginning of developing a regional economic development strategy, in the wake of the Partnership’s latest regional competitiveness report. The 2020 report found a widening economic gap in the region.
The third annual regional competitiveness report compares the Tampa-St. Petersburg area with 19 high-performing communities across the country, looking at nearly 60 indicators.
The Tampa-St. Pete area ranks at the top of the list in net migration, or people moving into the market, and it’s near the top in new business starts, crime, air quality and commute times.
The area is at or near the bottom in per capita gross regional product, a key measure of economic growth, as well as housing and transportation affordability, wages and median household income, and educational attainment.
“I think what this points to is the need for us to develop a regional economic development strategy that identifies how do we want to grow, what industries do we want to grow, what jobs do we want to grow? How do we create transportation systems to feed residents into these jobs? How do we create workforce training programs to support these strategic moves we want to make?” Homan said. “We’re also going to have to, in the year or two ahead, begin as a community to establish some real goals with these numbers.”
The goal-setting process involves a lot of people and conversation and buy-in from around the Tampa Bay area.
“We already have about 100 organizations we met with in small and large groups to help shape this report and everything that goes into it. One of the conversations we’ll begin to have this year with all of those groups that play such an important role in our community is how do we together begin to advance this document. How do we begin to set goals and divvy up the work and begin to track those efforts toward moving the needle on some of those key indicators?
“It would be irresponsible of me to say this is what we’re going to do. The important to get buy-in from the groups involved in solving these issues and in moving the needle and advancing the community.”
The Tampa Bay Partnership partnered with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and United Way Suncoast on the regional competitiveness report, choosing indicators that would provide a dashboard and a good check-up each year as to the direction the area is moving. That’s key for the business community.
“The fact is in this age, when data is so available, if there’s a company evaluating whether to move operations to Tampa Bay, they know all this. They’re looking at the data and the worst thing that can happen is if they meet with a group of economic development folks in Tampa Bay, and they represent one thing when the truth is something else,” Homans said. “Because we can pull awards we’ve won and acclaim we’ve gotten from all sorts of sources, but what these people are looking at is what’s the hard data, the reliable data, that has integrity and is unimpeachable, that we can look at and understand what is happening with these numbers. I think that’s what everyone understands has become the differentiator with this regional competitiveness report, is the integrity of the numbers, and people appreciate that very much.”
Another partner is University of South Florida Muma College of Business, which looked at real-time indicators from Google, Twitter and other sources about the economic well-being of the region. USF also looked at historic data over the past decade, and is using predictive analytics to determine the indicators that have the highest leverage — those indicators that, if they can be improved, will have a ripple impact on other indicators.
“What they’ve learned is that transit availability is what they call the key enabler for the other indicators. We rank 20th out of 20 communities in terms of transit supply and availability, transit revenue miles. We can understand how crippling that is and how impactful that is on average wages, and disadvantage youth, because if there’s no way to access opportunity you’re going to put some caps on it,” Homans said. “But if you open up those channels and allow people to conveniently and efficiently and affordably access opportunities in different parts of the region — not only jobs but education, medical — you create a different sense of opportunity. Just having the transit availability doesn’t solve the problem, but once you have it you can use it and enable the other indicators to move.”
Money is required to address some issues in the report. In other cases, what’s needed is a more collaborative strategy. The Partnership’s vision is to be a well-connected region, teeming with opportunity.
“From the Partnership standpoint, we fundamentally view that we are stronger as one. We’re stronger as a region with all of our assets than we are as a group of four or five counties that compete with each other, so that’s pretty fundamental to our vision of success in the future,” Homans said.
In the months ahead, the Partnership expects to produce an enhanced online version of the report, with more capabilities for people to look deeper, look broader, make comparisons and dive into the data in a fun, interactive way.