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Economic and Community Development

This Year's Top Honor Goes To...

Ian Scott on Monday, November 21, 2011 at 5:08:00 pm

The November issue of Site Selection magazine hit my desk last week with this cover story headline: Texas Tops the 2011 Business Climate Rankings. Kudos to Texas for earning the coveted top spot on a high profile list from a respected publication. Impressive job creation stats, sound tax climate and serious tort reform efforts; seems to me like the Lone Star State earned this one the hard way. Texas was trailed this year by 2) Georgia, 3) North Carolina and 4) Virginia.

The same four states occupy the top spots on CNBC’s 2011 Best States for Business ranking, but in a different order:  1) Virginia, 2) Texas, 3) North Carolina and 4) Georgia.  Forbes hasn’t updated its Best Business State rankings this year but in 2010 Utah took the top spot followed by Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado.

Best business tax climate, according to the Tax Foundation, is South Dakota. Best legal climate for business, according to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, is Delaware. Best educated workforce, according to CNN Money, is Massachusetts. I could go on and on.

A quick scan through ads in Site Selection (or many regional chamber websites) reveals just how much stock is placed in these kinds of rankings. Regions build their brands on them, politicians build their careers on them and business publications build their business plans on them. You better believe that when I win best husband, son, brother, and employee of the year, I'm having that magazine framed and sending a copy to everyone I know.

I think rankings are useful in determining how you benchmark your state or region against others. But you have to look at methodology for the ranking to have any meaning. The best is only the best because of the judging criteria, so if you're in the middle of the pack and want to move up you need to know what specific policies and practices to emulate. If your state is at the top, celebrate the successes that got you there but don't ignore your blind spots.

For a healthy dose of perspective about rankings and how we use them in the chamber/economic development profession, I suggest you read Mick Fleming’s article from the summer 2011 issue of Chamber Executive, "From Where I Stand: My Short List.”  My favorite line from that piece:

 “…the real problem with the media obsession with rankings—publishers, pollsters and pundits know that we don’t really care to hear the rest of the story. We want the digested, synthesized and, above all short, versions of news and analysis.”

Tags: business attraction, Economic Development, rankings; community branding, regional branding

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