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ISDS Researchers Identify Public Transportation as Key to the Region's Upward Trajectory

By Keith Morelli

State of the Region

TAMPA (January 9, 2020) -- For the Tampa Bay region to catch up with metropolitan areas of similar size and demographics, it must improve and expand its transportation options, according to an exhaustive report compiled by the Muma College of Business Center for Analytics and Creativity and the Tampa Bay Partnership and presented at the annual State of the Region conference today.

Specifically, an increased availability of transit would close the income equality gap, reduce the poverty rate and improve economic mobility, Shivendu Shivendu, a professor with the Muma College of Business, told the nearly 500 business leaders, government officials and policy makers attending the event that was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Partnership, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the United Way Suncoast.

The State of the Region conference is the annual forum in which a year’s worth of research is unveiled; research that measures factors that contribute to the quality of life of this and other regions. Such indicators include employment, poverty rate, migration rate, economic mobility and dozens of other variables. The Tampa Bay region is compared to 19 other metropolitan regions to determine how they compare to one another.

The other cities in the study were chosen on factors related to population and demography, the size of the economy and the presence of regional assets, such as ports and research universities. They included Baltimore, Seattle, San Diego and Houston. In Florida, Jacksonville, Orlando and the South Florida region were included along with the Tampa Bay area.

“I want to leave you with one important question,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership Foundation. “Are we creating an economy that works for everyone? The data you are about to see hits a lot of high notes regarding our economic growth … With all of the exciting momentum we see across the region right now, it would be easy to pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘mission accomplished.’

“But a closer look shows us that we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said, “if we want to create a community where everyone prospers and no one is left behind.”

The E-Insights Report, compiled by the Center for Analytics and Creativity, was one of two reports presented today. It is unique in that it uses real-time research, including information from Google Trends, Indeed job searches and social media sentiment, about the region and other key insights from real-time sources.

The researcher’s conclusions say that some of the indicators in which the region scores low can be adjusted upward through better transportation systems, mainly public transportation. For example, the poverty rate could drop if more people could find affordable ways to get to their work. Likewise affected would be employment rates in certain industries and the availability of well paying – and starting out – jobs in those industries.

“The policy experiments confirm that public transit infrastructure plays a crucial role in the inclusive economic growth of a region,” the report said, “by providing the impoverished strata of the society easy and affordable access to education, work and health.”

That transportation is a Tampa Bay regional headache is not new. It was featured in a 2020 economic outlooks issue of Florida Trend published this month. A Hillsborough County transportation tax overwhelmingly approved in a 2018 referendum that was expected to raise $280 million a year for road projects, including public transit, bike and pedestrian trails, has been held up by legal challenges. Conversely, the governor has allocated $1.4 billion in state funds to relieve the Interstate 275/West Shore Boulevard area of congestion.

The Tampa Bay region has ranked dead last for almost a decade with regard to public transit availability, according to the State of the Region report. Seattle has the highest revenue miles per capita and is consistently ranked No. 1 in many categories.

In other findings:

  • The Tampa Bay region’s economic inequality gap has been declining for the past few years, meaning the gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to widen.
  • In regard to economic mobility – if it is likely for children growing up now to be better off than their parents – the Tampa Bay region is No. 13 on the list, behind Orlando and Miami.
  • The Tampa Bay region ranks near the bottom in terms of information technology job openings per capita.
  • The Tampa Bay region ranks fifth from the bottom in the availability of entry-level job openings.
  • Miami is third from the bottom and Charlotte, North Carolina, occupies the No. 1 spot.
  • IT and financial services are driving the job market with the most job openings in the Tampa Bay region, which falls near the middle of the pack in both high-paying and low-paying job openings.
  • The Twitter sentiment analysis ranks the Tampa Bay region No. 12 for positivity reflected through conversations about downtown, schools and universities. Positive tweets about downtown come in at 81 percent and USF events, 69 percent. St. Petersburg has the overall highest positive Twitter sentiment among the cities in the Tampa Bay region.
  • The poverty rate of the Tampa Bay region had increased from 2008-11 and has been declining since. The unemployment rate has made significate progress between 2013 and 2017, and like most cities in the survey has been declining steadily.
  • The job growth rate of 2.03 percent placed the Tampa Bay region at No. 11, up from No. 13 last year, though the average wage in the region, $48,304 was second to last, a spot held by Orlando with an average salary of $47,467.
  • The Tampa Bay region ranked first last year and this year in net migration, or the number of people moving to this region. This is an indicator of the quality of life and economic opportunity, both real and perceived, of a region.

To read the 2020 Regional Competitiveness Report and/or the 2020 Tampa Bay E-Insights Report, click here.

Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem recognized the professors and graduate students who participated in the project. It was their efforts that came up with “a holistic picture of the economic health of our region and to see if the proverbial ‘American Dream’ is alive and well.

“They examined key areas to see what infrastructure actions, if taken today, might best increase the likelihood that this dream becomes reality,” he said. “It is truly fascinating.”

Limayem said the collaboration between the researchers at the Muma College of Business and organizations and businesses outside the university is part of what makes the university and region exceptional.

“We strive to be a resource for our business community,” he said, “and we frequently work together with businesses across Tampa Bay to solve business challenges.”