RI rises from last to 46th in CNBC’s annual state rankings; Mass. is 14th

Business News

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island has escaped the scarlet letter of last place in CNBC’s latest ranking of how friendly the 50 states are to business, but it’s still far behind its two neighbors.

The TV network ranked Rhode Island 46th out of 50 on its 2021 Top States for Business list, which was released Tuesday. Rhode Island had been 50th in 2019, the last time CNBC released the list, and before that was 45th two years in a row. The state also ranked last in 2016, 2014 and 2012.

One reason for Rhode Island’s better showing compared with two years ago was its improving infrastructure, with the state ranking 42nd in that subcategory after placing last for years.

“The Ocean State’s physical infrastructure remains dismal, but good broadband and a reliable electric grid pull it out of the cellar,” CNBC’s Scott Cohn wrote in an accompanying article, referencing two newly added metrics for the 2021 list.

Rhode Island ranks fourth-highest in the country and No. 1 in New England for broadband connectivity, according to Broadband Now Research. State leaders have also been spending hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years to repair bridges and roads through the RhodeWorks program.

Infrastructure was still one of four subcategories where CNBC ranked Rhode Island in the bottom 10, along with cost of doing business (42nd), cost of living (42nd) and access to capital (41st). It ranked highest in the category of life, health and inclusion (13th), and was in the middle for workforce (23rd), technology and innovation (28th), education (28th), business friendliness (30th) and economy (36th).

Massachusetts once again ranked far higher than Rhode Island on the list: 14th, unchanged from 2019 but still down from 8th in 2018 and 10th in 2017. Connecticut jumped to 24th, up from 35th in 2019.

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.

“We don’t like the spot that we’re in; we didn’t like the spot we’re coming from, which was 50th,” Democratic Gov. Dan McKee said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. He pointed to the improvements in some subcategories, and said his administration is working on additional programs to help small businesses.

General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, a Democrat who is expected to challenge McKee next year, said in a statement: “Rhode Island can, and must, do much better than 46th as a place to do business.”

“We can make our state an economic leader with a 21st century economy by investing in our people and our infrastructure,” he said. “This means building great public schools, world-class higher education, and workforce training. It also means upgrading Rhode Island’s infrastructure, which CNBC calls ‘dismal,’ to meet the needs of a modern economy.”

The top-ranked states were Virginia, North Carolina, Utah, Texas and Tennessee. Joining Rhode Island in the bottom five were last-place Alaska, followed by Hawaii, Maine and West Virginia. Vermont raked 42nd, and New Hampshire ranked 37th.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) 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, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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