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Roundup 9-29-2017

September 29, 2017

Contents

Economic Development – Catch 22?

— Income

— Per Capita GDP

— Good Effort

— Conclusion

Transportation – Changes, Maybe

Politics – About those Hurricanes

Transportation – More of the Same at the Airport

MacDill – More

Correction

____________________________________________


Economic Development – Catch 22?

This is the time of year that the Bureau of Economic Analysis puts out numbers about metro area economic performance.


— Income

First, the Times had a column about the latest information on incomes.

The good news is Tampa Bay’s median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation’s 25 largest metro areas.

This is not a new predicament for Tampa Bay. I wrote about this frankly discouraging bottom-of-the-wealth-barrel last year when Tampa Bay also ranked 25th with median household income in 2015. The increase from 2015 to 2016 comes to about 3.5 percent. That’s commendable growth. But is it keeping up with Tampa Bay’s metro neighbors?

Here’s the challenge.

How does a metro area like Tampa Bay that wants to do Big Things — whether it’s host Super Bowls or strive to make a legitimate pitch to become the home of Amazon “HQ2” (its second headquarters) or simply sustain healthy fan bases for NFL, MLB and NHL (and maybe MLS) pro sports franchises — keep up with all those other competing metro areas that are, in many cases, simply full of richer households?

And how do you attract the best talent when you pay the lowest wages?  Sure, some people will get much higher incomes and relatively lower costs of living, which is an advantage, and some companies will be happy to save money on salaries, but, overall, will it be a real advantage especially for higher wage jobs?

Bottom line: Tampa Bay and Florida remain in an uphill struggle to make household income headway against their metro and state peers. A big X factor for Florida in the coming year is how much of an economic impact Hurricane Irma will have in the state.

Significant income change in Florida —if it occurs — will be measured in decades.

There is hope the projects such as Water Street could create a more attractive environment to attract those workers and jobs and help (though just help) elevate the region economically, but, as of yet, slow going on changing the economic DNA.


— Per Capita GDP

Which brings us to our annual look at Per Capita GDP to see how we are doing as a regional economy.  On the overall GDP numbers (not per capita) the Times told us:

Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay’s gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

And that is good.  Overall growth creates more economic weight and regional importance.  However, GDP growth can simply be the result of population growth, not necessarily making the area more productive or wealthy.

As we have said many time, per capita numbers give a far better picture of actual economic performance. We use the numbers from the BEA and as we have noted in past years, they often adjust the numbers for previous years. Nevertheless, we use their numbers for internal consistency.

First off is the per capita GDP of the top 30 metro areas:

For a larger version, click on chart

Here are the per capita GDP and growth rates for selected cities ranked by per capita GDP:

For a larger version, click on chart

The first thing to note is that some of the cities have changed places.  However, the Tampa Bay area has not.  It is still next to last in the Top 30 metro area list, though it is creeping up on others slowly.  It is also very low on the selected cities list, though, again, it is creeping up, with a decent growth rate this year. (It is important to remember that growth is relative to the base amount meaning that our growth has to be consistently larger than those ahead of us to make progress. Those with a higher base can have lower growth rates but increase as much or more.)  But the bottom line is that whether we are second, third or fourth from the bottom, we are very near the bottom. (And we are more than $10000 behind the nation as a whole).

While we may pass Jacksonville relatively soon, significant progress will be harder to come by, we would have to maintain a significantly better growth rate than other cities for a while to make a real impact. That can be done (and hopefully will be, though notably our growth rates are not very consistent, especially compared to the higher ranked cities on the selected cities list).  We are doing better, but there is a long way to go to even be a little below average.

And our low numbers have an impact in many ways.  Not only do low incomes make talent look for other places where they can have greater success, it shows up in many of the amenities we have – or, rather, don’t have. It limits our ability, or at least willingness, to invest in things we need relative to other areas. (Though it should be noted that good urban planning does not really take excessive funding.) That can be seen in things like schools, transportation, and other infrastructure.  (Look at HART’s shrinking budget and service profile.) Yet, it is investment in those things which will help make us more attractive to both local talent we want to stay and other talent we want to recruit.  And it is worth noting that other areas have overcome not being high on the list; our bigger issue over the years has been political will to do what is necessary to get where we say we want to be (and not settle).

That all goes to the constant economic development question:

If someone can go anywhere, and with other places that already provide amenities that they want, why should they come here?

As noted in a recent Wall Street Journal article on cities trying to attract Amazon:

In fact, as Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, notes in his 2012 book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” the opposite happened: The wealthiest cities have pulled further ahead while the laggards have fallen further behind. The divergence has grown since the last recession.

Mark Muro and Sifan Liu of the Brookings Institution noted in a March article that between 2010 and 2015, 14 of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas materially increased their share of the nation’s tech jobs. The three biggest share gainers—the San Francisco, San Jose and Austin areas—are already home to clusters of such jobs.

Mr. Moretti attributes this to the “network effects” of knowledge work: “Being around smart people makes us smarter and more innovative. … Once a city attracts some innovative workers and innovative companies, its economy changes in ways that make it even more attractive to other innovators.”

In other words, the rich get richer. It is a conundrum. So what is the solution when you are playing catch-up?  You could develop home-grown talent (which is what most of the usual suspects did), get lucky with a relocation,  buy up companies from elsewhere and move them.  Or you could, as Water Street hopes to do (though Water Street, as ambitious as it is, is not a panacea), create the amenities that will move you up the attractiveness scale rapidly. And, of course, other areas are not sitting idly by as we figure this out.

Which brings us to the Amazon HQ.


— Good Effort

As everyone knows by now Amazon is holding beauty contest for a “second HQ” in North America.  Early news reaction in Tampa was:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 13 for us,” says [Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. CEO] Richard in his enthusiastic style. “We have read Amazon’s RFP (request for proposal) and it sounds like it was written for us.”

Though it does not really sound like that, we have previously said comment was fine because he is a salesman. However, more interesting is this:

Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will join forces in an effort to convince Amazon to build a new world headquarters in the Tampa Bay area.

* * *

Pinellas County Economic Development Director Mike Meidel told the Pinellas County Commission Tuesday that both counties will partner with the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa in what is admittedly a long-shot effort to lure one of the richest companies in the world.

“This has never happened before,” Meidel said about Amazon’s search. “They are staging a beauty contest, essentially. We will submit a single proposal for the Tampa Bay area. That is huge.”

And, yes, it is a very long shot, but we think completely support the joint effort idea.  While we are not sold on the benefits of being on the short-list that the article goes into elsewhere, even if a joint bid fails this time, it gives our area practice and breaks down barriers.  It gets people working regionally and, hopefully, will help foster a new mentality about how to help move us forward economically and with all the other issues we need to work out.  It is something we really need.

And, of course, you can’t win if you don’t get in the game.


— Conclusion

The bottom line is that our economic performance has improved (and last year seems to have been a good year), but we are still lagging behind our competitors. The real change in economic DNA has not happened yet.  We need a constant, sober focus on changing the model and doing what needs to be done to set the stage for future prosperity.


Transportation – Changes, Maybe

After the hurricane disruption, we are back to transportation news, this week involving TB(n)X – and there is potential change:

Florida Department of Transportation officials told about 50 people at a meeting Monday that the controversial express toll lanes previously planned north of downtown are not a part of most options for the I-275 and Interstate 4 interchange.

* * *

As part of the study, tolls are not guaranteed on express lanes from West Shore through downtown Tampa up north toward Bearss. Instead, those lanes would have limited entrance and exit ramps, meaning they would be intended for regional travel over longer distances.

Here are the four options the DOT presented Monday for the downtown interchange and the span of I-275 that goes north toward Bearss Avenue.

Tolls are under reconsideration with all four options. If the express lanes are not tolled, they would still have limited entrance and exit ramps spread out over longer distances.

With three of the options presented Monday, the express toll lane focus would shift to Interstate 75. Toll lanes were planned for I-75 under the now-defunct Tampa Bay Express plan, but would become the predominant north-south option in the department’s rebranded Tampa Bay Next initiative.

While this descriptions (and maps below) do not provide dependable details and are subject to change (made more confusing by the language used: like why call free lanes “express lanes” when FDOT has already branded their variable rate toll lanes as “express lanes?”), it is some progress.  As a Times editorial said:

Florida continues to improve its plan for modernizing the interstate system in Tampa Bay. The Florida Department of Transportation has unveiled four new options for rebuilding I-275 near downtown Tampa, and some of them would ditch previous plans for toll lanes downtown while keeping express lanes for faster, pass-through traffic. The DOT also continues to work in good faith to incorporate public feedback into Tampa Bay Next, the larger, controversial project for remaking 90 miles of regional interstate. These developments indicate state transportation officials are listening and better balancing the region’s growth, economy and quality of life.

We’re not sure FDOT is doing all that, but they appear to be trying, and that is something.  On the other hand, 1) all the plans are road plans and 2) the old TBX plan is still in play – it is one of the four options.  Let’s look at the maps.

The (basically) old plan, which is still an option:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The express lanes on the northside:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

The express lanes on the south side:

From the Business Journal – click on picture for article

We are not sure if they are completely accurate, but in the maps the “express lanes” appear to take up the entire median in all options (though at the western end, the express lanes terminate into the grassy median, which is unlikely).  (The options also do take up more right of way, though the new options do not take up as much right of way.)

Additionally, we understand the potential idea of “express lanes” that are not tolled – basically a flyover.  That is definitely better than variable rate tolled lanes. But, first, that is not guaranteed.  Second, do they continue beyond Boulevard/22nd – the maps seem to indicate they do.  Are they tolled then?  Do they eat up the whole median and, if so, how far?

And even if the “express lanes” are not tolled,

“What we’ve heard consistently is that neighborhood preservation is important,” said DOT consultant Danielle Moran. “These are the options for a smaller footprint.”

Indeed, but the neighborhood is more than just the area north of the interchange.  Bulldozing more of Ybor or Tampa Heights/West Tampa is not really a positive.  Just how much land are they talking about?  How will it negatively affect connections between neighborhoods to the north and south?

And the biggest issue we see is that this all appears to be uncoordinated with any transit issue and other transportation planning.  From the maps, the entire median is used for roads with no room for transit. Why is FDOT still working to use the median just for traffic without even considering real transit (not that we prefer real transit in the highway median, but that is an option that should not yet be foreclosed) And, as part of the new ideas not putting express lanes on 275 north of the interchange, what are the other options to help transportation north of the interchange? Which gets to the real question: How can we choose a road plan if we don’t even know if that plan is the best use of the rights of way and money (most of it probably isn’t), what the other transportation needs are, and how they all fit together? Is the process about roads or about transportation?

So, we will give FDOT credit for making a step in the right direction. We are not sure any of the options are particularly good, we don’t know why the entire process can’t be coordinated to create a real system including transit options, and, frankly, we are wondering why the old plan is not actually dead.  But at least there are some other options and some dialogue.  Whether it amounts to anything remains to be seen. And, remember, the TBX plan is still in play (if they are listening, why is it even an option?)


Politics – About those Hurricanes

Last week, we pointed out that we had been lucky and that this area had been remiss in planning for events such as hurricanes.  This week, we got a window into some of the problem.

Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

In Hillsborough County, that depends on whom you ask.

County Administrator Mike Merrill says he alone can call for an evacuation, and that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was out of line when he announced that some city residents needed to leave their homes two days before Hurricane Irma’s approach. Buckhorn disagrees.

The rift emerged at perhaps the worst possible moment: during the critical final days before Irma’s date with Tampa Bay.

Two weeks after the hurricane passed through Florida, the county and city remain at loggerheads over who can give the command. And experts say that’s a potentially deadly problem should another emergency arise.

Yea, it is potentially deadly, and, if anything bad were to happen in such a circumstance, there is no one to blame but the local officials.  So what happened?

At 1:15 p.m., Buckhorn called for a mandatory evacuation in Tampa of residents of Zone A. At the time, Hillsborough County had only issued a voluntary evacuation for special-needs residents of that zone.

The announcement directed people to the county’s shelters. One problem: Hillsborough hadn’t opened their general population shelters yet.

Buckhorn “ordered an evacuation before it was needed and before we were ready,” Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times this week. “Then you had confusion. That’s not good for a community.”

Then, on Sept. 10, Buckhorn called for a curfew in Tampa to take effect just as the storm approached. But in a briefing with reporters later that day, Merrill said “there never was” a curfew.

Those calls were not Buckhorn’s to make, Merrill contends. That power was given to Merrill on Sept. 6 by Hillsborough’s emergency policy group, a body that includes officials from the county and its cities, including Buckhorn.

The resolution, which Buckhorn voted for, gave the county administrator authority during the local state of emergency to “determine whether any specific areas or zones of the county are to be evacuated” and to “direct the sequence in which such evacuations shall be carried out, including the time any evacuations are to begin.”

* * *

Tampa city attorney Sal Territo acknowledged the city should have checked to make sure county shelters were ready before issuing an evacuation.

But Territo remained adamant that the city never relinquished its ability to mobilize Tampa residents. Tampa, he said, still has home-rule powers.

Good thing we were lucky in not getting a major hit because apparently petty arguments are more important than a unified, coordinated message to ensure public safety.

We get the County and City argue a lot (like this).  We also get there is a lot of factional bickering among various officials.  We get that such bickering holds us back in planning, transportation, and other issues that lead to being held back in economic development as well.  However, none of that excuses such silliness in times of emergency.

Of course, this all came out after we got lucky, but next time we might not be lucky.  In other words, work it out.


Transportation – More of the Same at the Airport

In what should be no surprise to people who regularly fly:

It was a repeat performance for TIA, which was named second in this survey last December. This time around, Tampa ranked second in the large airport category with a score of 795 behind John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, which had a score of 796. Dallas Love Field came in third with a score of 790.

The only surprise is that the Airport came in second (barely).  It is also notable that the “large” airport category was the second largest category:

The Orlando airport got the highest rating among the “mega” airports for overall satisfaction and scored tops for ease of getting to the airport and for facilities within the terminal. It didn’t do quite as well as the second-ranked airport, in Detroit, for checking baggage and security checks.

* * *

More precisely, Orlando International ranks at the top of airports with at least 32 million passengers annually, a category of mega airports that is new this year for the rankings.

Regardless, it is still good (and interestingly Orlando’s airport, at least the part in use now, is based on Tampa’s design anyway).  And then there is this:

According to RewardExpert, Tampa International Airport is the fifth least expensive domestic airport. Two other in-state airports are included in the top five: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) at No. 1 and Orlando International Airport coming in third. The report analyzed 45 of the nation’s busiest airports based on ten key indicators across four dimensions — transportation to and from the airport (21 points), plane tickets prices (50), amenities (15) and food (14).

It is not cheap as some other Florida airports, but at least we are a usual suspect on airport lists.


MacDill – More

MacDill is getting more refueling planes.

The number of KC-135 refueling jets at MacDill Air Force Base will grow from 16 to 24 with the return of a squadron that once called Tampa home.

The 50th Airlift Squadron, with eight jets and some 250 personnel, is headed to MacDill from Little Rock Air Force Base, according to a news release from the 6th Air Mobility Wing, MacDill’s host unit.

Which is on top of other, admittedly local, changes:

Later, another aviation unit will be moving operations to MacDill.

The base is building a new home over the next two years for A and F Companies of the Army’s 5th Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment. Now located at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, the move will bring 23 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and about 150 personnel to MacDill.

Growth at MacDill is welcome.  However, this is still a concern:

A new generation of tankers, the KC-46 Pegasus, are being built to replace them but so far, none of the new planes have been assigned to MacDill.

Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst, N.J. and Travis Air Force Base, California, were named by the Air Force in January as preferred locations.

That marked the second time MacDill failed to make the cut. Community leaders have been pushing hard to bring the new jets to MacDill because of the additional money, personnel and construction jobs they would bring. The jets would have also helped protect MacDill from any base reductions.

* * *

The Air Force declined earlier to say where MacDill fell short.

While the present planes should be around a while, getting the new ones would be much better.  We need to determine what the perceived deficiencies are and rectify them.  And to those how are more concerned with the politics of military bases, did we mention that we are the largest swing area in the largest swing state in the country?


Correction

Last week, in the “Parks and Taxation, Cont” segment () we attributed a Tribune editorial to the Times.  In fact, the editorial was written a few weeks before the Times bought the Tribune. We have corrected the segment.

 

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