Good News, Bad News in the Tampa Bay Partnership’s Regional Competitiveness Report and the Center for Analytics and Creativity’s E-Insights Report
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (January 15, 2021) -- The Tampa Bay E-Insights Report 2021, compiled from real-time sources such as Google searches, Zillow postings and LinkedIn employment connections mined by researchers with the Muma College of Business, reveals the attitudes, culture and economic viability of the Tampa Bay region in comparison to other municipalities of similar size and demographics.
The exhaustive 68-page report with analyses, charts and graphs that back up its findings, was delivered to some 1,300 business and governmental leaders at a virtual State of the Region conference today. It was accompanied by the Regional Competitiveness Report, put together by the Tampa Bay Partnership, and together were presented to inform decisions made by leaders in how to improve the quality of life and boost the economy within the region.
The difference between the efforts is that the E-Insights Report, compiled by professors and graduate students in the Muma College of Business’ Center for Analytics and Creativity, relies on real-time, big-data tools that provide insights not found in traditional measures.
“Most economic conclusions are based on data drawn from a year – or even a decade – ago and if the pandemic and economic crises have shown us anything,” said Moez Limayem, dean of the Muma College of Business, “it’s how quickly markets and consumer behavior can change and that fresh data must drive decisions as much as historic data.”
By looking at real-time data to get a snapshot of the current mood and concerns of the region, USF scholars found that transit availability, STEM education and increasing the median household income are the three things that could most help the Tampa Bay region make the greatest strides in almost all areas measured in the report.
“These three things, more than anything else,” Limayem said, “are the drivers that will improve the region’s GRP (gross regional product) and prosperity.”
This is the fourth year the partnership and USF have combined to compile the comprehensive reports, but this year, researchers had to navigate some unusual circumstances: COVID-19 and the social injustice unrest that swept the nation over the summer.
The data gives a more current picture of the attitudes, standings and economics – both positive and negative – about the region in comparison with 19 other similar municipalities.
Among the takeaways of the Tampa Bay E-Insights Report 2021:
- Investments in transit infrastructure, education and labor force participation are key to economic growth.
- The Tampa Bay region is less impacted by COVID-19 when compared to Miami and Orlando.
- The economy in the Tampa Bay region is recovering after suffering a dip in the month of April.
- Regular commerce and travel in the Tampa Bay region have been less affected than in most other regions in the study.
- By mid-October, consumer-spending levels in the Tampa Bay region recovered to 100 percent of the January value.
- The Tampa Bay region stands in the lowest quantile in terms of number of job openings per million individuals.
Dave Sobush, director of policy and research with the Tampa Bay Partnership, said rising unemployment reached during the COVID-19 pandemic hit the local economy hard.
“In February, there was 3 percent unemployment,” he said. “In April, there was 13 percent, the highest on record.
Travel and tourism was also hit hard, he said, “and that will take some time to recover.”
Conversely, the real estate market remained strong here, Sobush said. From June to November the rate of home sales was double digit over the same period the previous year.
Reflecting the summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations, Sobush said the issues of racial inequality was part of the Regional Competitive Report. Researchers found that the widening gap of kindergarten-through-12th grade passing rates between white and Black students was significant. Between 2018 and 2019 there was a 30 percent difference between white and Black student passing rate, he said. That likely reflects a lack of access to digital resources, perhaps no computers in Black households or lack of Internet availability, and that can result in further lost educational and, ultimately, job opportunities down the road.
The Tampa Bay region ranked No. 18 out of 20 cities in the study in digital access, he said.
“There are severe repercussions of these educational gaps,” he said.
However, there were some marked improvements more recently, said Shivendu Shivendu, a professor in the Center for Analytics and Creativity. The gap between a Black and white student access to digital resources over the last year or so, is on the uptick, he said.
“We are on the right path,” he said. “If we continue to do what we are doing, we can bridge that gap.”
A couple of snapshots in the E-Insights Report showed that inquiries on social media and other online platforms between June and August revealed a reduction in inquiries into divorce, said Balaji Padmanabhan, director of the Center for Analytics and Creativity. Online searches for regional malls, retail outlets and restaurants fell off during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But this has recovered,” he said, “though we are not close to where we were pre-pandemic.”
Consumer spending, including credit and debit card usage was sporadic, he said, but it is still below normal levels.
“Overall,” he said, “the Tampa Bay area seems to be recovering (from the summer’s economic hardships) quite well.”
Brian Lamb, a Muma College of Business alumnus, the global head of diversity and inclusion with JPMorgan Chase and vice chair of the Florida Board of Governors, lauded the effort that went into the research, commenting on the focus on systemic racial inequality and its impact on American culture.
“Diversity and inclusion have to be built,” he said. “Diversity and inclusion have to be woven into the fabric of business. Businesses have to set goals and achieve certain levels of accountability that can be measured. And businesses must invest in education, from high schools to universities.”
Limayem said the collaboration between the Muma College of Business and the Tampa Bay Partnership has resulted in research that is relevant and impactful. It can spark real action region-wide.
“We need private organizations to enter public-private partnerships,” he said, “where very high-quality, real-time data can be used to accurately measure the health and prosperity of the vulnerable population, if we want to have a better real-time handle on policy issues to promote inclusive growth.”