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Roundup 9-14-2012

September 14, 2012

Fear the Mouse & Welcome to the Orlando Suburbs

The Times ran a piece this week exploring economic growth in Orlando compared to the Tampa Bay area.

Won’t be too long before Tampa Bay’s longtime little brother, Orlando, becomes the bigger sibling of the Central Florida economy.

Long-term economic forecasts say the “gross metro product” — a metropolitan region’s GNP — of Orlando should catch and surpass that of Tampa Bay in about 16 years or about 2029.

* * *

Orlando’s gross metro product this year will hit $98 billion. Tampa Bay’s will be $106 billion, 8 percent bigger.

By 2029, forecasts say, Orlando’s $177.8 billion of output will edge out Tampa Bay’s $177.2 billion. By 2042, Orlando’s economy should hit $282 billion, 6 percent bigger than Tampa Bay’s.

Well, that does it then.  Clearly, our fate is determined.  We already lost.

Still, we wonder what accounts for this state of affairs.

Part of me is miffed that Tampa Bay will slip behind Orlando. Yet, signs of Orlando’s rise are already apparent.

Orlando is a tourism mecca historically driven by Disney and, lately, Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Tampa Bay can’t compete with such pop entertainment allure.

Tampa Bay lost its chance to join a modern transportation system last year when the feds diverted to other states money initially pledged to a Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail line. Florida Gov. Rick Scott opposed the federal deal, citing the risk of state funds being on the hook to cover future cost overruns.

Since then, Orlando defied mass-transit opponents, even winning Scott’s support for a regional commuter rail line called SunRail. Now there’s talk about connecting a private rail line between Orlando and Miami. Any statewide network of passenger lines must inevitably run through Orlando’s strategic location in the state.

As Snaith points out, the Miami area is hemmed in between water and the Everglades. And Jacksonville seems a bit too far north to become a main attraction for many lured to Florida for the sunshine and mild winters.

Oh, it is all the mouse.  No, wait, it is all about land.  No, wait, it is about High Speed Rail and the Governor.

Then, we finally get to the point real point: Orlando plans as a region and moves forward as a region.  Orlando embraces the future, regardless of the obstacles – like in rail, which we have discussed numerous times.  Tampa Bay just uses obstacles as an excuse to do nothing.

Look, we get the point that Orlando has tourism.  However, that is just an excuse for broader issues.  Tampasphere does not fear the mouse.

What Orlando does is leverage tourism to attract more businesses.  It developed a real urban plan – not perfect, but far better than we have.  Its legislative delegations work together, across party AND county lines, to get things done (Like how did UCF get a med school, when USF had one 90 miles down the road?)  Orlando has extensive and logical road network. (Yes, they have traffic issues, but just look at a map of Orlando and of the Tampa Bay area and decide which system is more rational)  Orlando has local rail under construction.  Orlando did not have a decade of stagnation at the airport supported by certain local politicians – it aggressively pursued flights, like TIA is now doing.  And, Orlando does not even have a Port.

Meanwhile, in the Tampa Bay area we are saddled with excuses, regional in-fighting and an over-reliance on real estate.

In other words, Orlando’s “rise” is not really the issue.  The issue is our complacency.

The Times article ends with this:

Tampa Bay will continue to grow nicely, right along with faster-expanding Orlando, Snaith says. Both metro regions talk often about coordinating their growth, connected by the I-4 Corridor.

Says Snaith: “They may look like twin cities in the future.”

That’s not a bad economic forecast at all.

The Times may complacently accept second place, but we do not.

Bring in the Economic Developers

Given the above described situation, what is the Tampa Bay area doing to develop the economy?  Well, Hillsborough County has the snappily named Economic Development Stakeholders Committee.

The same day the Times ran the piece discussed above, it ran an editorial about that Committee. It noted the purpose of the Committee:

The Economic Prosperity Committee was created in March to examine and revise any county regulations “that may inhibit job creation.” The goal was to build an environment that attracted private industry by improving the local infrastructure and labor market, and to work with other local governments and regional players, such as the airports and ports, to make the Tampa Bay area more competitive.

Then it noted:

But the committee has fallen short of that lofty perspective, and the panel has taken a hit from critics who see it as little more than a front for developers interested in tax incentives and more compliant environmental rules, especially the restrictions on building in wetlands. While commissioners made clear last week they would not weaken the wetlands protections, the panel is still adrift and a lightning rod for suspicion. A bigger problem, though, is that the committee was premature in the first place. And it is acting as an island when the only effective strategy is for the region to work together.

Look, the Committee is not a front for developers – it is developers (and those connected to the development community). (here is the member list)  There are no representatives of the Port, TIA, USF, HCC, etc.  There certainly is no one from outside Hillsborough.  There are a few people not completely tied to real estate, but this committee is not economic development – it is real estate development.  And this is while the Tampa Bay area is still suffering from a foreclosure crisis (though Hillsborough is doing a little better.)

We are not even going to try to touch the topic of why the developers are the only “stakeholders” in our economic prosperity.  Nor are we going to try to figure our why only developers are relevant to “job creation.”

The Times properly points out, as we have on numerous occasions, that real estate should be part of the conversation in economic growth.  It is part of our economy – but it is only part – and should not be the biggest part.  As the Times says:

The committee could be helpful in identifying suitable sites for industry and in sharpening the link between infrastructure and the local economy.

Exactly right (though the sentence following the quoted sentence is not accurate) – as a subcommittee for a real economic prosperity committee.  If there is real economic growth and economic development, the buildings and houses will fill themselves.  If there is not, no matter how deregulated or efficient permitting is, real estate will suffer.

This Committee is a 1980’s Tampa/Hillsborough attempting to work in the new economy.  Now you know why we do not compete.

Where the Economic Development Possibilities Are

Continuing on this theme, the Atlantic website had an interesting post entitled “Talent Beats Trade in Economic Development.” The nugget:

When all is said and done the study concludes that: “talent, or what economists refer to as human capital, is the key driver of economic development, having a far greater effect than traded industries.”

In other words, you need to human capital to develop economically – to fill job openings, to create a critical mass of economic creativity, to develop new industries.  That is more important that what you are selling right now.  Of course, both are important, and one will affect the other, but you need talent.

So how are we doing? It was recently noted that there are a number of job opening in the Tampa Bay area that cannot be filled because of lack of qualified applicants. The Tampa Bay area ranks low in the number of residents with college degrees. (See here and here)  There has been much talk of a brain drain. (See here and here)

Given the need to attract talent, if they are going to deal with real estate, Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay area as a whole should work more to create an urban metropolis with good transit which young, talented people want to move to, live in and stay in rather than focusing on just easing regulations and settling for suburban designs everywhere.

Tampa and Cuba

Once again, there is news of the success of the Tampa-Cuba flights at TIA. After just a year, Tampa is already the second largest market for Cuba flights. However, it seems that Miami based Cuban-Americans are working to harm this business – possibly everywhere:

Travel operators that handle U.S.-Cuba travel say that applications to renew their licenses are languishing, forcing cancelations, layoffs and the loss of millions of dollars in revenue.

And many place some blame on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

Travel operators say their troubles are due to a deal struck between Rubio and the White House, something the Cuban-American lawmaker’s office proudly acknowledges.

It strikes us as odd, though not surprising, that a Florida Senator would only represent narrow regional interests – too bad we never seem to get the benefits of that.

As an aside, it seems that Tampa is now a favored location for high level Cuban defectors.

Rail and Buses

There was also an interesting piece on how rail pushes transit ridership higher.  The study was done in LA, so not exactly the Tampa Bay area, but interesting.  It is not long.  You can read it here.

List of the Week

Many of those arguing against rail in the Tampa Bay area cite lack of density.  Well, there are many kinds of density.  One is population density.  Another is business density.  Both are needed for good transit.

Our list this week is business density in US metropolitan areas.  Surprisingly, the Tampa Bay area comes in 8th.  The real problem is that you wouldn’t necessarily notice because of the way the area is built makes it appear to be far less dense and makes it hard to get around without a car.

Change the code.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Bud Wills permalink
    September 14, 2012 11:14 AM

    This paragraph sums it up perfectly: Given the need to attract talent, if they are going to deal with real estate, Hillsborough County and the Tampa Bay area as a whole should work more to create an urban metropolis with good transit which young, talented people want to move to, live in and stay in rather than focusing on just easing regulations and settling for suburban designs everywhere.

    Tampa Bay can’t out-Orlando Orlando. Why would we want to be just a medoicre poor-cousin version of that anyway? Lack of room to sprawl is not an excuse–it is an opportunity. If we were committed to a vision of building Florida’s first truly dense urban metro, we’d be on par and be able to compete with a couple of America’s greatest cities (think Boston, San Francisco–which, by the way, are hemmed in geographically), with better weather to boot.

    There are benefits to this approach for many constituencies, besides the creative hipster types. Developers could reap huge benefits with the success of this approach. Rural residents would see fewer threats to their way of life. Many of the more educated, wealthy Boomers as a trend are seeking out more stimulating, walkable places to retire.

    Tampa Bay needs to embrace the urban concept and make it part of the DNA, in order to completely distinguish us from Miami and Orlando. The concept needs to be promoted and sold by business and political leaders as the only way this area has a chance to compete.

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