Tampa market’s recovery, competitiveness prospects are looking good

March 25, 2021

Earlier this week, Economist Chris Chmura of Chmura Economics Analytics presented her forecast for Hillsborough County’s economic recovery to our Executive Committee. I’m happy to share some highlights of Chris’ report along with some other factors that will influence the way we work going into next year.

The first factor Chris discussed was employment returning to pre-COVID levels. In the scenarios she presented, assuming that vaccinations would stay on pace, Florida is expected to reach herd immunity by October or November of this year. If Florida approaches the 80 percent fully vaccinated mark by that time, employment should return to pre-COVID levels by the first quarter of 2022.

Next, Chris examined which industries in our market were hardest hit, and which were thriving and poised for accelerated growth. Unsurprisingly, the arts and entertainment (down 29 percent) and accommodation and food services sectors (down 21 percent) suffered the most over the past year, while utilities, construction, transportation and warehousing, finance and insurance, and professional, scientific and technical services continued to grow.

Of greatest interest to our leadership was the Tampa market’s competitiveness against other regions in our strategic growth areas. These include financial services/fintech, information technology/cybersecurity, and life sciences/cancer solutions. Once again, Hillsborough County’s outlook is healthy. Chris shared the Location Quotients (LQ) for these industries and several others.  An LQ greater than one indicates that the regional market has a higher concentration of employment in a particular industry compared to the national average, and a 1.25 LQ indicates a competitive advantage. Hillsborough County’s LQ for the Finance and Insurance industry is a whopping 2.02, and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services is 1.39. Chris’ forecast for the growth of these sectors heading into next year is 1.7 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively. Hillsborough County’s overall industry growth forecast is a healthy 1.3 percent, above Florida’s overall forecast of 1.1 percent.

Currently, Hillsborough County has 44,320 job openings across all sectors – already close to pre-COVID job demand levels. At this rate, we’ll need to attract another 2,000 people per year to satisfy job demand by next year. However, given the turnover in certain fields like healthcare and the need to replace those workers, Chris said, our actual workforce requirement is likely closer to 4,500 more people per year. Thankfully, Hillsborough County has had extremely strong net in-migration during COVID, a trend that she expects to continue as we navigate our way out of the pandemic.

Chris concluded her presentation by noting that Hillsborough County’s growth in the next year is expected to outpace the nation overall. She cited historical incidences of what she called “Post-Traumatic Growth” – and predicted significant expansion ahead for our target industries and economy in general.

That’s exactly the kind of data-driven optimism we need right now, and one that fortifies our pitch to companies and talent looking at Tampa and Hillsborough County. I can confirm that our pipeline is robust, and our project activity is picking up significantly. This pandemic has been a rough ride for us, but we’ll emerge stronger and more competitive than ever.