PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island remains one of the worst states in the country for business, according to CNBC’s latest annual rankings, but it has once again avoided being the worst of all.
The TV network ranked Rhode Island 45th out of 50 in its 2022 Top States for Business list, which was released Wednesday. That was one slot better than last year, when Rhode Island ranked 46th, and ties with 2017 and 2018 for the state’s best showing in the last decade.
Rhode Island ranked in the bottom half of states in CNBC’s 10 categories of competitiveness with one exception: “life, health and inclusion,” where the state ranked 16th. That category looked at metrics such as crime rates, environmental quality, health spending and anti-discrimination policies.
Rhode Island was among the worst 10 states for infrastructure (44th), cost of doing business (47th), the economy (41st) and the cost of living (42nd).
CNBC once again ranked Massachusetts far higher than Rhode Island, at 24th, though the Bay State has fallen significantly since placing 8th back in 2018. Connecticut fell to 29th, down from 24th last year.
The CNBC list and its methodology have a number of critics, but Rhode Island’s elected leaders have made clear over the years they care about the state’s perennially poor showings on this and other national business-climate rankings.
Matt Sheaff, a spokesperson for Gov. Dan McKee, said it was “welcome” news that Rhode Island rose from 46th to 45th on the list, though he downplayed the importance of any single ranking. He pointed out that the state’s unemployment is at its lowest level in over 30 years, and touted a Moody’s analysis that ranks Rhode Island second nationwide for returning to normal economic activity post-pandemic.
“Our FY23 budget makes critical and historic investments in improving our infrastructure – an area our state has traditionally ranked poorly in, housing, job training, as well as additional initiatives to improve our business climate, which will help Rhode Island continue to improve in the future,” Sheaff said.
But McKee’s rivals in both parties cited the CNBC list as fresh evidence Rhode Island isn’t making progress.
“The takeaway from this new ranking is clear: the last thing Rhode Island needs is more of the same career politicians,” said Audrey Lucas, a spokesperson for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Helena Foulkes.
“Our businesses are already struggling to navigate state government bureaucracy under the leadership of Governor McKee, who talks a big game about supporting small businesses but fails to provide meaningful support,” she said. “Raising taxes on small businesses like Secretary Gorbea has proposed will only hurt Rhode Islanders more.”
(Gorbea has proposed increasing Rhode Island’s corporate tax rate from 7% to 8%, a step opposed by Foulkes and McKee.)
Lucas added, “Helena understands how to help Rhode Islanders start and grow businesses of all sizes, and as governor, will create jobs so we ensure great futures for future generations.”
Dana Walton, Gorbea’s campaign manager, said the study along with May’s 12 News/Roger Williams University poll of Democratic primary voters show Rhode Islanders “are deeply concerned with the soaring costs of living.”
“The CNBC rankings show that rising costs and a worsening housing crisis are holding Rhode Island back,” Walton said. “Nellie Gorbea will be the housing governor and improve our economic climate by tackling the housing crisis and supporting small businesses.”
Ashley Kalus, the Republican frontrunner for governor, suggested that none of the Democratic candidates are the answer. “Dan McKee and Democratic leaders continue to fail the people of Rhode Island,” she said.
“Today’s report confirms what Rhode Islanders already knew — the policies being pushed on Smith Hill are crushing working families and crippling small businesses,” she said. “With inflation reaching a 41-year high of 9.1%, coupled with the new report ranking Rhode Island as the 45th worst state in which to do business, it’s time to say enough is enough. It’s time for change.”
Kalus pledged as governor to reduce taxes and regulations while improving educational outcomes, saying, “We cannot continue down the same path we have for the last 80 years.”
The top-ranked states on the CNBC list were North Carolina, Washington, Virginia, Colorado and Texas; just below Rhode Island in the bottom five were Hawaii, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alaska, and last-place Mississippi.
“There may be no better place to beat inflation than Mississippi, which offers the lowest cost of living in the nation. But workers are not exactly beating their feet to get there,” wrote Scott Cohn, who puts together the list for CNBC. Mississippi has “one of America’s least educated and least productive workforces,” he added.
Elsewhere in New England, Maine ranked 43rd, New Hampshire ranked 35th and Vermont raked 31st.
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook