This year’s most improved state is New York. While still in the bottom half, at No. 27, the Empire State jumps 11 spots from last year’s No. 38 finish, thanks to solid improvement in its economy. State finances are in good shape, the housing market is strong, and only California is home to more Standard and Poor’s 500 companies. New York is also a leader in incentives and tax breaks for businesses, to the consternation of some watchdog groups. According to government figures compiled by the nonpartisan group Good Jobs First, New York spent more than $4 billion in state and local revenues on business subsidies last year, more than any other state.
Not to get carried away, however; the state is still loaded with problems. It is one of America’s most expensive places to live and do business. Taxes, wages, utility costs — even rent for office space — are among the highest in the country. Economic growth is tepid at best. Several high-profile public works projects championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo are under way, such as the complete rebuilding of New York’s LaGuardia Airport and the new Mario Cuomo Bridge north of New York City. But for now, the state’s infrastructure is among the worst in the nation.
Other big improvements include Idaho, rising nine spots to tie with Michigan for No. 11, thanks in part to a boom in manufacturing as the state seeks to position itself as home to what some are calling the Silicon Valley of the food business. Chobani is in the midst of a $20 million expansion at what it says is the world’s largest yogurt plant in Twin Falls.
Arizona (No. 20) and Nevada (No. 33) each move up six spots with the help of a surge in construction as the states tackle housing shortages, though both states get failing grades in education.
The biggest decline this year belongs to North Dakota, plunging 10 spots to No. 31. Once considered the great American success story — the state finished third in our rankings back in 2013 — the shale oil boom that powered the state cooled considerably when the price of oil began falling the following year. Production is rebounding now as prices rise, but not before an exodus of college-educated workers hit the state. Nearly 5 percent of North Dakotans with a bachelor’s degree or higher moved out of state in 2016, according to the Census Bureau, knocking the Peace Garden State down to No. 30 from No. 12 last year in our all-important Workforce category.
Other notable declines include Kentucky, which falls seven spots to No. 42. The Bluegrass State is facing a $40 billion pension shortfall, prompting Standard and Poor’s to lower the state’s credit rating in May.