CNBC recently unveiled its annual America’s Top States for Business list. It ranks the business climate of each of the 50 states from best to worst.
Of course, any ranking like this should be taken with a grain of salt. Still, it’s interesting to see the national perception of Wisconsin’s business climate, how it’s compared to other states and what are perceived to be our strengths and weaknesses.
For 2019, CNBC says Wisconsin is the 15th best state for business. Not great, but not bad. Virginia ranked No. 1, Texas No. 2, North Carolina No. 3, Utah No. 4 and Washington No. 5.
The bottom five ranked states are: West Virginia (45), Louisiana (46), Alaska (47), Mississippi (48), Hawaii (49) and Rhode Island (50).
In the Midwest, Wisconsin ranks behind Minnesota (7), Ohio (10) and Indiana (11), but ahead of Iowa (16), Michigan (24) and Illinois (30).
CNBC breaks the rankings down into six categories: “workforce,” “economy,” “infrastructure,” “cost of doing business,” “quality of life” and “education.”
Wisconsin’s best ranking is in the “education” category, where the state ranked No. 5. Massachusetts ranked No. 1 for education.
This ranking demonstrates that Wisconsin’s education system is one of its greatest strengths. That’s important because talent is crucial to our state’s economic competitiveness. We need great schools to develop talent and, at the higher education level, to attract talent. We need top talent to work at our businesses and to start their own businesses.
Hopefully the state’s leaders understand this. Of course, there is an endless debate in Madison about how much to spend on education, both in K-12 and for the UW System, and about different education approaches such as school choice and charter schools. Bottom line: we need great, high-performing schools at every level. And if we want our economy to grow, we must develop and attract the best and the brightest.
Wisconsin’s lowest ranking was in the “quality of life” category, where the state ranked 26th. Hawaii ranked No. 1. Now, that’s just unfair. Arkansas ranked 50th for quality of life. CNBC says the “quality of life” category includes crime rate, health care, inclusiveness, the environment and local attractions including parks and recreation.
Often plans to invest in quality of life amenities, such as a new arena, are criticized as being frivolous and a waste of money. But those things matter. Again, it goes back to the war for talent.
Talented people can choose to live and work anywhere. To attract them, we have to offer a high quality of life. That means taking care of the important things like health and safety, but also providing the fun amenities like arts, sports, culture and parks. If we don’t offer an attractive quality of life, talent is going elsewhere.
We can’t do anything about the Wisconsin weather, but we can continue to work on making this the best place to live.