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Tampa-St. Pete gains in Milken Institute list of best-performing metros

Margie Manning

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The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area ranks No. 32 among the 200 best-performing large metro areas in the United States in the 2021 Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities Index.

The local area gained 16 points from its previous rank of No. 48 on the index.

The Tampa-St. Pete area scored well in job and wage growth and technology factors, although the area’s score was relatively low in housing affordability.

Housing affordability and broadband access were new measures added this year to reflect the inclusiveness of local economies.

The Index has been published annually since 1999. This year’s offers a first look at how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted regional economies across the country, according to the Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank based in Los Angeles.

“The pandemic has had an outsized impact on cities where the economic effects of the current recession are exacerbated by high housing costs,” Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute Center for Regional Economics, said in a news release. “By measuring for factors such as jobs, wages, and high-tech growth, the Best-Performing Cities Index offers analysis of how metro areas have fared based on the resilience of their local economy. And by incorporating data designed to gauge inclusivity, it provides important insights into how cities will be prepared to meet challenges and opportunities for future growth post-pandemic.”

In an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst, Klowden said the Tampa-St. Pete area was resilient, especially compared with the rest of Florida.

“Tech has helped, but some portion of it has also been that the metro is not as dependent on tourism as some other metros in Florida. It is a more diverse economy,” Klowden said.

Here’s a detailed look at how the Tampa-St. Pete metro area fared on the 2021 Milken index, compared to 2020.

Job growth

Tampa-St. Pete ranked No. 24 among the 200 metro areas for one-year job growth between 2018 and 2019. That’s up from the No. 47 spot in the previous year’s index.

Over five years, Tampa-St. Pete ranked No. 33 for job growth in the 2021 index, compared to No. 37 in the 2020 index.

Milken also took a snapshot of the period between October 2019 and October 2020, to measure the impact of the pandemic on job growth. Tampa came in at No. 63 out of the 200 cities in terms of job growth in that snapshot, better than the national average. Ocala, in central Florida, was No. 1 in the U.S. for job growth in that 12-month period, although Orlando, at No. 177, took a major hit because it is so tourism-dependent, Klowden said.

Wage growth

Tampa-St. Pete ranked No. 89 among the 200 metros for one-year wage growth between 2018 and 2019, up from No. 105 in the previous year’s index.

Tampa-St. Pete ranked No. 54 for wage growth over five years in the most recent index, a slight decline from No. 52 for five-year wage growth in the previous year’s index.

Technology

The 2021 Milken index ranked Tampa-St. Pete No. 29 for high-tech GDP between 2018 and 2019. The local area previously was ranked No. 79 for high-tech GDP over a one-year period.

The local area’s high-tech concentration for 2021 ranks No. 67 among the 200 metros, up one spot from a year ago.

The index also includes high-tech location quotient, which measures the industry’s concentration in a metro relative to the national average. In that metric, Tampa-St. Pete ranked No. 37 on the 2021 index, compared to No. 40 on the 2020 Index

Broadband access

The broadband indicator measures the share of households in a metro area with any form of broadband internet access. The Tampa-St. Pete area ranks No. 69 on the 2021 index.

Broadband access is important to adding jobs and attracting and keeping a workforce, because it gives people the ability to work from home, Klowden said.

“Companies can say we have the infrastructure here. We can operate out of someone’s garage or our people can telecommute,” he said. “That is something that Tampa does pretty well at. It comes at 69th, so it’s easier to attract and support that environment.”

Housing affordability

Milken included two measures of housing affordability in its 2021 index – households with affordable housing costs in 2019 and households with affordable housing costs between 2014 and 2018.

For 2019, Tampa-St. Pete ranked No. 145 among the 200 metros. For 2014-2018, Tampa-St. Pete ranked No. 143.

Housing affordability is calculated as a proportion of wages. While housing costs here are not as high as other tech communities, wages also are not as high.

During the pandemic, especially, housing affordability has become a tipping point, Klowden said. He cited as an example the decision by software and services company Oracle to move its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Texas.

“Companies that have moved have been deliberate in moving to other tech strongholds, but housing affordability is definitely a factor in attracting younger people and families,” Klowden said.

When companies are considering a relocation or opening a new office, the Milken report could help them think about a location that was not previously on their radar, Klowden said.

“For cities, what we want them to do is to say just because we’ve been doing well, we need to be mindful of what’s in the future,” Klowden said.

Provo-Orem, Utah topped Milken’s 2021 ranking of best-performing large cities, while Idaho Falls, Idaho was No. 1 among best-performing small cities. Milken said both areas have benefitted from a growing high-tech industry presence.

See the full index here.

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