Trigaux: Is Florida really a 'best state' for business? Here's a shortcut to the top

Published February 17 2016
Updated February 18 2016

After exhaustive research, I've discovered the best way for Florida to call itself the "best state for business" and actually mean it.

Florida must change its name to Utah.

It's really that easy. Utah ranks No. 1 in two authoritative analyses of what individual states have to offer, from GDP prospects and their cost of doing business to the level of education of its residents and quality of life — just to name a few factors.

Forbes ranked Utah No. 1 last fall, with Florida trailing at No. 20 — not bad, but hardly a leader. Now comes business website 24/7 Wall Street's own ranking, out this week, that also names Utah tops and places Florida at an even more mediocre No. 22 — just below Nebraska and just above Arizona. Respectable — but hardly something to crow about.

When it comes to business, Florida is nowhere near best. That's hardly an inspiring position for a state whose governor has chosen, rightly or wrongly, to suggest Florida is just inches away from being the best place for businesses to relocate to in the country and, soon, the world.

If state legislators simply give the governor the incentives budget he wants to recruit businesses, while cutting more taxes, all will be rosy in Florida.

So there's the rub. Who do we believe? Florida's state leadership in Tallahassee is all about adding more jobs to the state. The state's job-recruiting arm, Enterprise Florida, just launched an admittedly sharp-looking business brand built around the new tagline "Florida: The Future is Here."

But there's a danger in hyping what Florida is not. Gov. Rick Scott and a new ad campaign can pitch the Sunshine State as best of the best and, yes, some businesses will bite and relocate (with enough incentives tossed their way). But many other businesses will keep their own counsel and look more closely at why Florida ranks 20th in the Forbes ranking and 22nd in the new 24/7 Wall Street ranking.

The state lands at No. 22 for the following reasons: The state is adding people, which means the labor pool is growing. That means new businesses are better able to hire from a larger workforce even as the state unemployment rate hovers near 5 percent or lower in major metro areas.

Is that reason enough to make Florida "best" in business? As 24/7 Wall Street explains it, Florida spends a lot more than most states on keeping its roads in good shape (though I suspect the lack of snow and plowing here is a big plus on road quality). Maybe we should work "The No-Pothole State" into our marketing slogan.

There's more behind Florida's ranking. The state GDP (gross domestic product) grew 2.7 percent between 2013 and 2014, 11th highest among states. Its average wages and salaries in 2014 were $46,228, 25th lowest. Adults with bachelor's degrees in 2014 were 27.3 percent, 16th lowest. Its number of patents (a measure of innovation) issued to residents was 4,210, 10th highest. And its projected working-age population growth from 2010 to 2020 is 13.6 percent, sixth highest and more than double the nation as a whole.

Is that all so bad? Not at all. Florida is a fast-growing state with below-average wages and a workforce lagging in education. That can appeal to certain types of businesses.

Still, the 24/7 Wall Street ranking found 21 states "better" for business, and Forbes earlier ranked 19 states higher for business based on a wide set of criteria.

Utah ranked No. 1 in both rankings because it is growing fast. The state benefits greatly from its geographic position as a lower-cost place to attract tech companies born in nearby California.

Florida's adjacent proximity to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi is not quite so helpful.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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