Education Key to Nationwide Competitiveness

Guest Correspondence

Competition amongst counties and regions for economic development is fierce, almost as fierce as it was during the recession. Now is the time to diversify and make sure we are well-positioned for the next inevitable recession, which will hopefully come later than sooner.

Sarasota County sits as a southern outlier in a region known as the Tampa Bay Area. Recently, the Tampa Bay Partnership, in collaboration with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the United Way Suncoast, released the "2018 Regional Competitiveness Report" to "examine the Tampa Bay region's relative performance across a variety of economic competitiveness and prosperity indicators."

The report compared the Tampa Bay region to 19 other "peer and aspirational markets". It looked at economic vitality, innovation, infrastructure, civic quality, talent and outcomes.
Some interesting facts came to light in the comparisons. The Tampa Bay region is near the top for job growth rate, behind Orlando, but second from bottom in average wage, beating Orlando, this time at the bottom.

In Innovation, we were average for university research and development and university technology licensing.
Infrastructure yielded the same results. For commute times, walkability and pavement condition, we were right in the middle compared with the other markets. Believe it or not, we were third best in driving time spent in congestion.

Our youth poverty rate was the fourth worst. We were in the middle of the pack for the full-time worker poverty rate. We were slightly below average for the millennial in-migration.

The talent portion was section we did the worst on. The Tampa Bay area was at the bottom for the labor force participation rate for 25- to 64-year-olds, at the bottom for attaining graduate and professional degrees, and at the bottom for attaining bachelor's degrees. We were fourth worst for graduation rates for the economically disadvantaged and third worst for high school graduation rates.

What was the takeaway from this report? The Tampa Bay area performs average to well in many areas of measurement, but there was one glaring sentence in the Executive Summary that shows what we must focus on: "If the region wants higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs, it will need a strategy to develop, retain and attract the educated workforce that these jobs demand—whether it's certificates or traditional academic credentials such as associate, bachelor and advanced degrees."

We have a responsibility to the next generation to leave them well-situated for the future. We cannot do that until we improve education and compare ourselves to the rest of the country, not just Florida. We must take a deep look at ourselves and decide that second best in the state is not enough. We want to be the best in the country.

We certainly should celebrate our education victories. But it's time for us to look past our state borders and have sincere conversations about skills gaps, the education gaps, and make sure we are measuring ourselves against, and competing with, the regions in the other 49 states. We can and must do better for our future.

Christine Robinson is executive director of The Argus Foundation.

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