In Chief Executive’s annual survey of best and worst statesÂ for business, conducted in late January of this year, 651 CEOs across the U.S. again gave Texas top honors, closely followed by North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. They gave the booby prize for worst state to California, with New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Massachusetts filling out the bottom five-a line-up virtually unchanged from last year. Florida and Georgia each dropped three places in the ranking, but remain in the top 10. Utah jumped six positions this year to sneak into the top 10 at No. 9.
The business leaders were asked to draw upon their direct experience to rate each state in three general categories: taxation and regulation, quality of workforce and living environment. Within each category respondents graded states in five subcategories, as well as ranking each in terms of its importance to the respondent and how individual states measure up (Click here to see How CEOs Grade the States chart).
For example, Texas fares competitively with Nevada and Delaware in terms of taxation and regulatory environment, but scored best overall, in no small measure because of the perception that its government’s attitude to business is ideal. Runner-up North Carolina edged Texas slightly in its living environment, but scored somewhat below the Lone Star state in terms of government attitude to business and work ethic, which is a sine qua non for the business leaders. (Click here to see the chart)Â After employee work ethic, CEOs most highly prize lower tax rates and perceived attitudes toward business, followed by living environment considerations, such as real estate costs and education.
“Texas is pro-business with reasonable regulations,” one CEO respondent remarked, “while California is anti-business with anti-business regulations.” Another commented, “California is terrible. Even when we’ve paid their high taxes in full, they still treat every conversation as adversarial. It’s the most difficult state in the nation. We have actually walked away from business rather than deal with the government in Sacramento.”Â
“The leadership of California has done everything in its power to kill manufacturing jobs in this state,” observed another CEO. “As I stated at our annual meeting, if we could grow our crops in Reno, we’d move our plants tomorrow.”
How is it that the nation’s most populous state at 37 million, one that is the world’s eighth-largest economy and the country’s richest and most diverse agricultural producer, a state that had the fastest growth rate in the 1950s and 1960s during the tenures of Democratic Governor Pat Brown and Republican Governors Earl Warren and Ronald Reagan, should become the Venezuela of North America?
Californians pay among the highest income and sales taxes in the nation, the former exceeding 10 percent in the top brackets. Unemployment statewide is over 12.2 percent, higher than the national average. State politics seems consumed with how to divide a shrinking pie rather than how to expand it. Against national trend, union density is climbing from 16.1 percent of workers in 1998 to 17.8 percent in 2002. Organized labor has more political influence in California than in most other states. In addition, unfunded pension and health care liabilities for state workers top $500 billion and the annual pension contribution has climbed from $320 million to $7.3 billion in less than a decade. When state employees reach critical mass, they tend to become a permanent lobby for continual growth in government.
Bill Dormandy, CEO of San Francisco medical device maker ITC, summed it up: “California has a good living environment but is unfavorable to business and the state taxes are not survivable. Nevada and Virginia are encouraging business to move to their states with lower tax rates and less regulatory demands.”
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Lone Star Leader
By contrast, Texas, the second-most populous state and the world’s 12th largest economy, is where 70 percent of all new U.S. jobs have been created since 2008. Unsurprisingly, it scores high in all the areas CEOs value most. “You feel like state government understands the value of business and industry to create jobs and growth,” observed one CEO. Its tax credits and incentives to business choosing to locate or expand are among the most aggressive. The Texas Enterprise Fund is by far the largest deal-closing fund of any state, with grants totaling $377 million disbursed in 2008.
Little wonder then that while Texas gained over 848,000 net new residents in the last 10 years, according to the CensusÂ Bureau, California lost 1.5 million. New York State’s net loss exceeded 1.6 million – the highest of any state. High-tax, big- government New Jersey ranked fourth, with a net loss of almost 460,000, enough to drop it from 10th to 11th place in population.
“The New York state legislature is the most dysfunctional in the land and one of the reasons why New York is the worst,” one exasperated New York City business leader volunteered. The political elites in the states that dismiss out-migration trends overlook the radical demographic adjustment underway. As higher-income earners leave, they are more often replaced by those with lower incomes and lower skills, many needing public assistance. Gone too are the entrepreneurs and risk-takers, off seeking regions where their job creating abilities are rewarded.
Another more daunting reality is in store. The so-called de-leveraging of America hasn’t reached government. U.S. cities and states have issued over $2 trillion in new debt since 2008, with another $1 trillion scheduled this year. The problem is that state revenues in real terms may not reach 2008 levels until late in 2012, according to John Thomasian of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. As he emphasizes in his paper, “The Big Reset: State GovernmentÂ after the Great Recession,” states will have to rethink and redesign government in terms of what is essential and what can be made more efficient if their citizens are to have much of a future.
The results of this survey may point the way.