A Slide Backward

A Slide Backward

For a record-breaking two years in a row, 2020 and 2021, Virginia was ranked as the number one state in the country for business. Unfortunately, when the results were announced recently for 2022, Virginia had slid backwards to number three. It was replaced at the top by North Carolina and at number two is Washington. To rank America’s Top States for Business, CNBC scores all 50 states on 88 metrics in 10 broad categories of competitiveness. The results are studied closely by businesses as they represent the most objective measures of how states are doing in attracting and keeping businesses and jobs. The results are of interest as well to educators and social scientists on how the states are doing on issues like workforce training, access to education, health care, worker protections, and discrimination.

Contrary to messages of some politicians, business interests go well beyond who has the cheapest labor, the fewest regulations, and the lowest taxes. Businesses, especially in the era of technology and innovation, have a brand or reputation to protect as well as an obligation to get the best employees who can grow their enterprises. The lowest paid and least educated workers may have been acceptable in the industrial era but not in the modern economy. Additionally, business leaders making decisions on locating their companies must take into account living conditions for their employees and their families.

For these reasons North Carolina, after a number of bipartisan actions taken by the Democratic governor and Republican legislature on education and training programs as well as worker welfare, put it to the top of the list as the best place to do business. Unsurprisingly, Mississippi for the same considerations made the very bottom of the states for business.

Interestingly, in the never-before accomplishment of making the best for business for two years consecutively, Virginia took significant actions that some would have argued would have made it less attractive to business. For example, the General Assembly and the governor working together raised the minimum wage on a schedule to get to $15 per hour over the next several years. Collective bargaining was approved for government employees. A human rights law was passed to outlaw discrimination in the workplace and community. Criminal justice laws were reformed. Record expenditures were made for public schools and colleges and universities. A free community college program was established. An energy plan was adopted to put Virginia on the path to energy independence and zero emissions.

Already, there have been actions taken by the new governor that may in part explain the slide backwards that Virginia has taken in its ranking as business friendly. While the tall, affable governor and his success in the financial world may make for a handsome salesperson for the Commonwealth, his words belie a philosophy from times since past that no longer fit the modern economy. Removing Virginia from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) costs the state money while ensuring that citizens of the state may be exposed to greenhouse gasses and a changing climate. Appointing cast-offs from the Trump administration and believers in the most perverse theories about education will cripple and not improve our schools.

Virginia has started a slide backwards to the past. We need to act now to stop that slide before the state is too damaged and finds itself tumbling in the rankings among states.