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Money magazine ranks Tampa as No. 1 city in Southeast

TAMPA — Forget the floods and the traffic jams, pay no heed to the unforgiving heat and humidity - this really is the place to be.

At least that’s the verdict of Money magazine, which on Monday ranked Tampa as the best large city in the Southeast and one of five “urban gems” across the United States offering an abundance of culture and amenities at “livable prices.”

The ranking lauded Tampa’s robust job market and affordable property prices while highlighting the city’s “international aspirations” with events like the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup run and the Bollywood Oscars.

And it found a high-profile cheerleader in Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, who moved his family here three years ago and is behind a $1 billion proposed redevelopment of the area around Amalie Arena.

“Tampa still isn’t on the radar of people in the Northeast and the Midwest,” Vinik told the magazine. “I think it’s going to boom.”

Tampa was chosen, along with Pittsburgh, Denver, Omaha and Mesa, Ariz., from 63 U.S. cities with populations in excess of 300,000. Cities were selected based on availability of jobs, access to health care, culture and open space, among other criteria.

On the jobs front, the story cites an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent and the presence of Bristol–Myers Squibb, which in 2014 opened a new 70,000-square-foot office in the city, as proof of the city’s ability to attract employers.

Moody’s Investors Service is predicting job growth in Tampa will run at 15 percent over the next 5 years, the Money article states.

Tampa’s inclusion was not a surprise for Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, which markets all of Hillsborough County.

“I’m really proud that we’re finally getting our just recognition,” he said. “We have everything that a big city would want, but we’re still not so big that it’s overwhelming.”

Rankings have been a mixed blessing for Tampa in the past few years. It was ranked as the most vain city in the United States by Men’s Health in 2012 and the 11th worst for traffic congestion earlier this year.

But this latest mention in a high-profile publication like Money can only help the city, Corrada said.

“This is huge; the credibility of the ranking organization is important,” Corrada said. “Anytime that Tampa’s name is out there and it resonates, it’s important for us.”

Still, there are a few references in the article that will have locals scratching their heads, such as its mention of Tampa bragging about its beaches and how the city attracted 1,000 jobs at Amazon’s new distribution plant. The facility is actually in Ruskin, almost 30 miles south to the south.

And the study’s claim that the median home price is just $121,000 may be off the mark.

According to the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors, the median sale price of existing single-family homes in Hillsborough County was $195,000 in April 2015. Meanwhile, the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser calculates the average assessed value for a single-family home in Tampa at $146,250 for the 2015 tax year.

Nonetheless, Money’s standing as a reputable news source will also lend more credibility to the city’s own claims about the merits of Tampa, said Michael Smith, an associate professor at La Salle University who conducts research on the link between public relations and community building.

“They have some history and credibility; they’ve been around in one form or another for at least 30 years,” Smith said

Developing a reputation as a good place to live will enhance Tampa’s appeal for both employers and people looking to move for work or other reasons.

“I can imagine that those responsible for promoting Tampa are going to use these rankings to appeal to those two groups,” Smith said.

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