There are lots of good reasons to take the rankings of “top states for business” or “most business-friendly states” put out each year by various media outlets with huge grains of salt. The rankings are almost always packed full of subjective criteria, often fail to take into account the lives of real people and exist as much as excuses to sell online ads as they do to convey meaningful information. That said, the rankings always get a lot of attention and usually prove irresistible to politicians looking to brag.
Take, for example, today’s unveiling of “America’s Top States for Business” from the cable business network CNBC. North Carolina is ranked fifth in the new 2016 list (up from ninth last year) and Governor McCrory is already claiming full credit for the rise and citing it as validation of his policy agenda.
Here’s the thing, though: North Carolina has been ranked highly by CNBC throughout the 10 year history of the list. Indeed, the state averaged a slightly better ranking during the four years of Governor Bev Perdue’s administration (during which it averaged a ranking of 5.0 despite the devastating impact of the national Great Recession) than it has during the years of the McCrory administration (during which the average ranking has fallen to 7.75).
In addition, consider the following less-than-rosy take on the current environment in North Carolina from today’s release:
“This is North Carolina’s sixth appearance in our Top 5, with its best finish in 2011, when it ranked No. 3.
However, North Carolina was hit hardest in the Quality of Life category, where it landed in 30th place. The so-called bathroom law has drawn major criticism from business, and North Carolina is also one of only five states with no discrimination protections for non-disabled people using public facilities. Last year, North Carolina ranked at No. 9 on our list, and it had the potential to be higher this year, but the ‘bathroom bill’ controversy dragged down its ranking. (Emphasis supplied.)
And although job growth was healthy last year, unemployment remains above the national average at 5.1 percent. North Carolina’s individual income tax rate is 5.75 percent and the corporate tax is 5 percent. The state and local sales tax tops out at 7 percent and the largest employer in the state is Wal-Mart.”
The bottom line: To the extent the new rankings are valuable, they are hardly an endorsement of conservative policies. To the contrary, it’s clear that the state’s high score this year comes in spite of the policies of its elected leaders, their systematic under-investment in core public services and structures and the disastrous international publicity that they continue to attract.