Trigaux: Can Florida go from good to great? Look beyond economy, says U.S. News' review of states

With wide disparity in individual categories, Florida wound up ranked 24th overall in U.S. News & World Report's first report on Best States.
With wide disparity in individual categories, Florida wound up ranked 24th overall in U.S. News & World Report's first report on Best States.
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Florida's economy ranks an impressive seventh among U.S. states. The state's infrastructure stands at a commendable 11th and even its government gets a thumbs up at ninth nationwide.

Impressive! Mission accomplished?

Take a closer look. Based on "opportunity" — a measure of household income, poverty and inequality of education, income and by race — Florida rates a dismal 43rd among the 50 states. Ranked by "crime and corrections" — a look at state incarceration rates and public safety — the state limps along at 37th. And in especially critical categories of health care and education, Florida lands at an unimpressive 31st and lagging 29th, respectively.

Dreadful! How did Florida fare so poorly?

These rankings and many more are pieces of a first-ever, broader assessment of the nation's 50 states by U.S. News & World Report. The news magazine is best known for its longstanding ranking of U.S. colleges and universities and also its in-depth review of U.S. hospital quality.

The "Best States" assessment examined benchmarks in seven broad categories — health care, education, opportunity, economy, infrastructure, crime and corrections, and government. In all, 68 metrics were factored under those categories.

A different weight was assigned to each category based on feedback from survey about what matters most to people about their states. Health care and education are weighted most heavily — a tip-off to sharp-eyed readers that Florida probably isn't going to rank too high.

U.S. News found Massachusetts was tops among states, followed by New Hampshire and Minnesota. Northern states dominate the top tier in the survey. Louisiana ranks last, with other southern and Sunbelt states right behind.

So where does Florida rank in the first U.S. News review of how states are serving their citizens?

Florida ranked 24th overall. Viewed through the broad lens, it sits neither among the best states, nor among the worst.

Welcome to the middle-of-pack reality of a state that's trying to pitch itself as the hot shot Sunbelt state where everybody and every business really wants to be.

Clearly, on closer inspection it's not so simple. Florida has significant issues.

Let's compare.

No. 1 Massachusetts ranks No. 1 nationally in education and No. 2 in health care. No. 24 Florida ranks 29th in education and 31st in health care.

No. 2 New Hampshire ranks No 1 in opportunity for its citizens. Florida ranks a disturbing 43rd. And No. 3 Minnesota ranks No. 5 for infrastructure. Florida fares better in this comparison, ranking 11th among states in infrastructure.

Granted, the sheer volume of "best of" rankings and surveys feels off the charts these days. It was only this past December that I wrote about the Milken Institute's survey of the 200 largest metro areas in the country. In that study, Tampa Bay ranked 33rd, up a startling 136 metro spots from the darker economic days of 2009. Other studies seem to crop up every week measuring this state or this metro area by any number of different criteria.

The U.S. News "Best States" ranking was assembled with the analytical and data expertise of McKinsey & Co., one of the world's top consulting firms. It's one important reason this in-depth survey demands our attention.

Brian Kelly, editor and chief content officer at U.S. News, says health care was given the most weight in the rankings because that's what people care most about. "I think that's a really profound trend in society," he states in the U.S. News findings.

Where do the big population states rank?

"When you look at the usual suspects that people always talk about — California, Texas, Florida — they don't do so well,'' Kelly notes. California, ranked 23rd overall, ranks No. 3 for its economy, and No. 10 for health care. Texas, ranked 38th overall, ranks No. 6 for its economy.

Within its top 10 rating in the economic category, Florida, it should be highlighted, ranks first in "entrepreneurship."

"It's hard to be good at many things," Kelly says. "The value of a ranking like this is we use our judgment to say, it's not just one thing that makes a state great. It's a combination of things.

"Are you serving your whole population? You have a healthy economy, but is everybody in the state participating in that economy? Is everybody participating in the health care system? It's a lot of things that matter."

Highlighting the really high performers gives you role models, Kelly states. "It gives you a chance to look at how they got where they got."

Look at Florida's weak spots identified in this assessment. Public school education. Health care access and affordability. Crime. Higher electricity prices and patent creation that lags more than 30 other states.

Florida, take heed. It's not just "jobs, jobs, jobs" that make a good state one of the best.

Someday we'll learn that lesson.

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

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