RI rises 5 spots for best-ever showing in CNBC state rankings: 45th

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – CNBC’s latest ranking of how friendly the 50 states are to business has a mixed message for Rhode Island: the state posted its best-ever showing, but it’s still only five spots from the bottom.

The business TV network ranked Rhode Island 45th out of 50 on its 2017 Top States for Business list, which was released Tuesday afternoon. The state had ranked last in 2016, 2014 and 2012, and had never previously finished higher than 48th since the rankings began in 2007.

This year, though, 50th place was taken by West Virginia. “Notice something missing from the bottom five?” CNBC’s Scott Cohn wrote in an accompanying article. “That would be Rhode Island — just barely.”

“The state is still something of a mess, with high taxes, sky-high utility bills and America’s worst infrastructure,” Cohn continued. “But efforts by the Ocean State to improve itself are paying off in a stronger economy. Rhode Island’s 45th-place finish is the best it has ever done in our study.”

Among the categories examined by CNBC, Rhode Island was once again held back most by its poor infrastructure, which ranked worst in the nation. The state was also near the bottom in three other of CNBC’s 10 categories: Access to Capital, Cost of Doing Business, and Cost of Living.

But the state saw a big jump in its ranking in the Economy category, climbing from 45th to 29th, following a sharp drop in the unemployment rate over the last 12 months. The state also ranked in the top half of states in the Education category.

“Just one year ago the Ocean State finished dead last,” Cohn wrote. “The improvement is no accident. Every time we rank Rhode Island at or near the bottom, state officials take it to heart.”

The CNBC list and its methodology have plenty of critics, particularly on the left. But Rhode Island’s elected leaders have made clear over the years that they care a great deal about the state’s perennially poor showings on this list and other national business-climate rankings.

Gov. Gina Raimondo’s spokesman, Mike Raia, noted Rhode Island had the nation’s highest unemployment rate in 2014, but is now below the national average. “Private-sector jobs in Rhode Island are at an all-time high,” he said. “We need to protect that progress and give every Rhode Islander a shot at the good jobs businesses are creating here.”

Massachusetts once again ranked far higher than Rhode Island on the latest CNBC list: 10th, up from 20th in the last two years. Connecticut also improved its ranking from 43rd to 33rd, somewhat surprisingly amid headlines about huge deficits and corporations fleeing. The top five states overall were Washington, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas and North Carolina.

Here is how Rhode Island ranked in the 10 categories examined by CNBC:

  • Access to Capital: 44 (2016: 45)
  • Business Friendliness: 37 (2016: 39)
  • Cost of Doing Business: 43 (2016: 45)
  • Cost of Living: 42 (2016: 43)
  • Economy: 29 (2016: 45)
  • Education: 20 (2016: 20)
  • Infrastructure: 50 (2016: 50)
  • Quality of Life: 31 (2016: 24)
  • Technology & Innovation: 34 (2016: 35)
  • Workforce: 27 (2016: 23)

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook