Ranking Tampa Bay

A new economic score card offers an honest self-evaluation that could help improve the bay area's competitiveness.

A Times Editorial
Published January 14, 2006

When the following metropolitan areas in the South are mentioned, which do you think of as the most attractive to businesses looking to relocate: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Jacksonville, Raleigh/Durham, Tampa Bay?

There is no right answer, of course. It depends on what executives are looking for in a new home base. If the criteria include a plentiful and productive work force, good schools and a can-do attitude, the Tampa Bay area might rank higher than you would have guessed. Tied for second, to be precise.

That is the conclusion of a new economic score card devised by the Tampa Bay Partnership, an organization focused on improving the region's competitiveness. It may be tempting to pass off the score card as the latest gimmick to market the area, but partnership officials make a good case for taking the campaign seriously.

The score card has five categories, and rankings are based on objective, verifiable information so anyone can check the accuracy of the outcome. There were some surprises in the Tampa Bay area's ranking.

It did better than might have been expected in education, ending up second to Raleigh/Durham. Tampa Bay's high school graduation rate was fourth among the six metropolitan areas, but we were second in mean SAT scores and third in undergraduate degrees per worker. Yet the Tampa Bay area was dead last in the housing category. It wasn't just that the cost of housing has risen so quickly, but also that the region was at the bottom of the list for average wage. High home costs and low wages are a bad combination for a place that hopes to compete.

Such honesty, however, is necessary in self-evaluation, explained Bill Habermeyer, chief executive of Progress Energy Florida and past chair of the partnership. Tampa Bay will benefit if it is seen "as a region that is willing to look at itself, warts and all," he said.

Is the Tampa Bay area really on a par with the bustling Research Triangle of Raleigh/Durham, and behind only Charlotte in this list of Southern giants? Only companies looking to move know for sure, and they use their own evaluation tools in deciding on the best place to do business.

But the score card, which will be updated and published quarterly, could be of real value. If the Tampa Bay region is willing to report the bad news along with the good, then everyone will see where we need to improve. The real purpose of a score card, after all, is to measure yourself against the competition and figure out what it will take to win.