Area Development magazine names Georgia best state for business (again); Washington doesn’t make the “top 20” list.

Area Development, a magazine focusing on site selection and economic development, has ranked Georgia the top state for business. As usual, we advise skepticism – these things are often highly subjective. While Washington doesn’t make the AD “top 20,” you’ll remember WalletHub ranked the Washington economy the nation’s best, Washington topped the US News “best state” rankings, and CNBC put Washington No. 2 in its best states for business rankings in 2018 (we were No. 1 the year before).

But, then, Chief Executive magazine placed us No. 43 on its best and worst states for business list.

So, all over the waterfront. On the AD lists, the Southeast does well, suggesting that costs, regulations, labor relations and incentive programs weigh heavily.

Georgia has been ranked first for six years in a row. Tennessee, in second place, makes regular appearances in the top five; same with third-place South Carolina. Alabama is a perennial favorite in the upper echelons, and ranks fourth this year, and if you look back over previous years’ lists, you’ll see that fifth-place North Carolina is perpetually well-regarded, too.

But there’s always something to learn from digging into the ranking criteria. AD asks site selection consultants to rank states on 12 factors:

Overall Cost of Doing Business, Corporate Tax Environment, Business Incentive Programs, Access to Capital & Project Funding, Competitive Labor Environment, Leading Workforce Development Programs, Shovel-Ready Sites Program, Cooperative & Responsive State Government, Favorable General Regulatory Environment, Favorable Utility Rates, Most Improved Economic Development Policies, and Speed of Permitting. 

Washington took top marks in favorable utility rates. 

Again, this is a survey of informed opinion, not a metrics-driven assessment of costs, incentives, regulations and so on.

Our “Top States” are determined through a survey of well-respected site/location consultants and specialists. These are experts who are well acquainted with which states have the friendliest tax or regulatory environments, which lead in workforce development, which have the most competitive cost of doing business, and so forth.

It’s a compilation of data that’s both useful and thought-provoking — but the consultants who had input into the lists shared here will be the first to tell you that this isn’t the last word on what the very best site is for any given project. Depending on a project’s specific needs, the ideal location could be in a place at the top of one of these lists, or further down, or not on any list at all.

It’s perhaps telling that the low marks the state received from Chief Executive magazine was also based on an opinion survey. And we suspect that many of the factors that have played into Washington’s strong growth in technology, innovation, biotech, and aerospace are not picked up or undervalued in the survey of site selection consultants. 

But, again, perceptions do matter. So give the rankings a look.