Business Facilities’ 11th Annual Rankings Report: Texas, Utah Top Flagship Business, Economic Categories

annual-rankings-reportBy Business Facilities Staff from the July/August 2015 Issue

Our annual Rankings Report is a moving target. Each year, we strive to keep our rankings as relevant as possible. This means we have to evaluate our rankings categories before we start evaluating locations and begin churning out our top-10 lists. As emerging industries evolve, so too must our rankings. It may make sense for some rankings categories to be broken into their subsets or disappear altogether, while new categories emerge like infant islands in a churning sea of data.

annual-rankings-reportA good example of this evolution can be found in our annual renewable energy rankings. Our initial forays into this sector (about five years) ago frankly were a bit clumsy; we overreached with a generic Alternative Energy Leaders ranking, which lumped solar, wind and biofuels into the equivalent of a rankings blender. Our initial stabs at solar and wind power gave extra weight to locations that were producing the largest number of photovoltaic panels or wind turbines, in the absence of precise data about the amount of electricity that installations were producing.

What a difference five years can make: in our 2015 Rankings Report, we give you these essential state benchmarks: Installed Solar Capacity Leaders, Solar Power Installation Leaders (2014), Installed Wind Power Capacity Leaders, Wind Power/Percentage of Overall Energy and Biofuels Leaders (Ethanol). We’ve also created a new category to rank the states with the most stringent Renewable Portfolio Standards.

Like the locations we cover in BF who always are striving to stay ahead of the curve, we’ll do our best to make sure our annual rankings are the most credible you can find.


annual-rankings-reportEvery year, we take special care when we undertake our across-the-board evaluations for two of our flagship rankings categories, Best Business Climate and Economic Growth Potential. We evaluate a gamut of key benchmarks including diverse growth strategies, incentives and workforce availability, as well as the results across all of our rankings categories, among other weighted factors.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Texas has reclaimed its crown as our top-ranked state for business climate. The Lone Star State has been at or near the top of this category for as long as we’ve been parsing our rankings. Texas persists as a jobs juggernaut with an impressive reach into a diverse spectrum of growth sectors, from semiconductor fabrication to automotive and biotech, and just about everything in between. The deal-making mojo in Texas remains unsurpassed, bringing home Toyota’s new North American headquarters among other economic development prizes; but our friends in Texas aren’t resting on their laurels—they’re busy laying the foundation for the future with forward-thinking infrastructure like the new wind power grid in West Texas.

In 2014, Texas led the nation for the 13th year in a row in exports (TX is the top-ranked state in our Exports Leaders category), shipping out $289 billion in goods. More than 50 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Texas; the state’s civilian workforce of 13 million is the second largest. If you don’t think everything is bigger in Texas, consider this: TX has the third-largest share of domestic travel revenue: $67.5 billion, generating an estimated 568,000 jobs.

annual-rankings-reportTennessee, which recently became BF’s first back-to-back State of the Year winner, surges into second on the strength of highly successful growth strategy that seems to lure a big-ticket project every week. Here’s a sampling of July’s announcements from TN ECD:

  • Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, the world’s largest automotive interiors supplier, will invest $55 million to establish a new automotive manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, creating 325 new jobs. The company will supply interior components including floor consoles, instrument panels and trunk trim for future Volkswagen models at the automaker’s Chattanooga assembly plant. Production will begin in late 2016.
  • Nike’s largest distribution center in the world opened in Memphis. Nike’s $300-million North America Logistics Campus-Memphis (NALC-Memphis) is a high-tech facility the size of 49 football fields (2.8 million square feet). For the first time in company history all three of Nike’s product lines–footwear, apparel and equipment–are housed under one roof in Memphis in a facility that can store 46 million units of product and ship these goods by truck to 45 states within two days.
  • The global automotive parts manufacturer Gestamps announced a $180-million expansion creating 510 new jobs in Chattanooga. The company will grow its existing cold-stamping operation and add Class A stamping, hot-stamping and chassis component stamping to function primarily as a Tier 1 supplier to VW.

annual-rankings-reportA nation-leading approach to education reform ensures that TN will be a leading contender for our top business honors for years to come.

Indiana, also big in automotive and biotech, surges into fourth place in our business climate sweepstakes, with North Carolina joining the top 10 at No. 8.

With a surging young population and a diverse, well-executed growth plan, Utah again tops BF’s growth potential ranking, our annual assessment of the states that are poised to achieve rapid and significant growth. Utah’s highly successful Economic Cluster Initiative (ECI) is capitalizing on the Beehive State’s core strengths and facilitating the development of clustered business environments. Seven growth sectors are targeted by the ECI: aerospace/defense; outdoor recreation; life sciences; finance; energy/natural resources; IT/software; and manufacturing.

The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development serves as a catalyst to align necessary resources and policies that contribute to successful economic clusters. Businesses which align with clusters have a head start when applying for state incentives.

North Dakota, which is still getting its act together to maximize the huge growth potential fueled by its oil boom, again claims second place. Ohio, grabbing a solid foothold in emerging technologies like additive manufacturing (a.k.a. 3D printing) surges into third, while North Carolina debuts in the top 10 in ninth.

annual-rankings-reportWORKFORCE TRAINING LEADERS

We’ve expanded our Workforce Training Leaders ranking to a top 10 this year. As usual, we’ve closely evaluated the effectiveness and scope of state workforce training incentives, but we’ve also given extra credit to states that are leading the way in integrating their education resources with workforce training and/or offering on-site training.

Louisiana FastStart is still the gold standard in workforce training, but second-place Alabama, which has established world-class on-site training for advanced manufacturing, is coming on strong. Tennessee and New Mexico, both with dual-credit high school tech programs (TN now is offering two free years at Tech Schools and Community College to all eligible students) vault into our top five.

New Mexico has enacted several enhancements to its job training incentive program (JTIP), including streamlined application procedures and expansion of the JTIP program to more industries. The program is now a recurrent part of NM’s state budget, which is a significant commitment to continuity. Gov. Susana Martinez recently brought together a group of public and private sector leaders to develop and execute workforce training plans based on private-sector employment needs. The goal is to create a “workforce pipeline” for these companies. NM just completed a major survey of employer needs—current needs and projected needs—the results of which will be used in building the workforce pipeline.

annual-rankings-reportTennessee reclaims its crown as our Automotive Manufacturing Strength champ (making TN our top-ranked automotive strength state for five of the past six years) by nailing down VW’s $1-billion expansion at Chattanooga and a commitment from GM to produce Cadillacs in Spring Hill, as well as luring a steady stream of Tier 1 automotive suppliers to the Volunteer State. Alabama, this year’s No. 2, is throwing down a marker for a heavyweight rematch: the Crimson Tide rolled out nearly a million vehicles in 2014 for Mercedes, Honda and Hyundai, with Mercedes expanding at Tuscaloosa to introduce a new model.

Ohio surges into third place in our annual auto sweepstakes with a $500-million expansion of Ford’s Lima engine plant. Rounding out the top five are Kentucky, which garnered a long-term commitment from GM to keep and expand Corvette production in Bowling Green; and Indiana, which snared a $266-million investment from Chrysler to expand its Kokomo complex.


With each annual Rankings Report, we continue to clarify our alternative energy rankings categories to give you the most relevant and up-to-date information on which states are leading the effort to move the U.S. closer to a carbon-free future. This year, we’ve introduced a new category, Renewable Portfolio Leaders (2020), showcasing the states that have set the highest bars for their alternative energy goals (in terms of the percentage of renewable energy the state’s utilities must be selling by 2020). Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) have been adopted by 29 states.

annual-rankings-reportThe top three states in our new ranking have each adopted an impressive RPS of 30 percent or higher: top-ranked Maine at 40 percent; second-place California at 33 percent; and Colorado at 30 percent. The overall top 10 for RPS, which is tracked by the National Conference of State Legislatures, shows that the Northeast is keeping pace with the Southwest and other regions, with New York, Connecticut and New Jersey joining No. 1 Maine among the leaders (at fourth, fifth and eighth place, respectively).

Texas continues to dominate our annual Installed Wind Power Capacity Leaders category, with nearly twice the capacity of second-place California. CA edged ahead of Iowa, our third-place finisher, while Oregon and Washington surged up into sixth and seventh, respectively. Iowa, the leading wind turbine manufacturing hub still rules the roost in Wind Power/Percentage of Overall Energy (with 28.5 percent of its electricity produced by wind power)—but keep an eye on Texas, which moves into the top 10 and no doubt will continue to march upward as the Lone Star State’s recently completed $6.8-billion wind power grid in West Texas starts humming with wind-turbine generated juice.

There was more solar power installed in the U.S. during the past year than in any year previously recorded. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association, which tracks the numbers annually in a report co-produced by GTM Research, more than 6,200 megawatts of new photovoltaic capacity was installed in 2014, a 30 percent increase over installation levels in 2013, bringing total U.S. solar power to more than 20,000 MW. By the end of 2014, 20 states each achieved an installed photovoltaic capacity that exceeds 100 MW. About 32 percent of all new electricity generation capacity added in 2014 came from solar, up from 29 percent in 2013 and 10 percent in 2012. Nationwide, there were almost 200,000 new solar installations in 2014, compared to 140,000 in 2013, an exponential trend that no doubt will continue throughout 2015.

annual-rankings-reportThis year, we’ve split our solar energy ranking into two categories, Installed Solar Power Capacity Leaders and Solar Power Installation Leaders (2014), so you can see which states made the most progress in 2014 as well as those who continue to lead the pack in overall installed capacity.

California is still the overwhelming No. 1 in the overall category, with nearly half the installed capacity in the nation and more than triple the capacity of second-place Arizona. The 2014 installation results show that the East Coast is keeping pace with the Sunbelt, with strong showings by North Carolina, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.


The release earlier this year of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Economic Census, which surveyed employment data for more than 350 industries covering 300,000 manufacturing facilities, cried out for a fresh look at the overall leaders in U.S. manufacturing. So we’ve created two across-the-board manufacturing categories for our 2015 Rankings Report, Top Manufacturing States and High-Wage Manufacturing Leaders.

Our top 10 for manufacturing clearly shows that size counts: this category is filled with states with the largest populations. But the results also tell us that states which combine a dominant position in old-line industries with an aggressive growth strategy in new high-tech sectors will rule our emerging 21st century economy when it comes to manufacturing jobs. California, a perennial aerospace frontrunner and the birthplace of biotech, is our top-ranked manufacturing state, followed by Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

annual-rankings-reportAlthough California’s industrial sector is not as large as it was in decades past—today it employs about eight percent of the state’s workers—the Golden State still tops the list with nearly 39,000 manufacturers employing about 1.4 million people, according to the Census Bureau report. These workers produce products valued at more than $500 billion, the equivalent of nearly 25 percent of the state’s overall economic output. You’ve probably heard this before, but it bears repeating: if California were a nation, it would be the world’s seventh largest economy.

Although CA did not win the competition for the biggest economic development prize in recent years—Tesla’s 5-million-square-foot battery plant, which is under construction near Reno, NV—California has seen an expansion of technology-related manufacturing, especially in the Silicon Valley. Computer and electronics comprise the state’s largest industrial subsector with 177,603 workers, according to the Census Bureau report; 45 percent of the state’s factories are in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, accounting for $211.1 billion of overall industrial output in CA.

Anyone who wrote off sixth-placed Michigan when the auto industry collapsed needs to get their eyes checked. North Carolina, which notched a strong across-the-board showing in this year’s rankings, checks in at No. 10.

It’s not surprising that traditional per capita income leaders like Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey also snare top 10 spots in our high-wage manufacturing ranking, but this category also features some eyebrow-raisers, including Wyoming, Arizona and New Hampshire.

annual-rankings-reportA good indicator of where future manufacturing growth may reside can be found in our Lowest Industrial Electricity Rates ranking, based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest available average month cents/ kilowatt-hour report. The 10 states with the lowest rates are all well below the national average of 6.79 cents/kwh, with Washington again No. 1 at 4.30 cents/kwh. Georgia surges into the top 10 in fourth place. (Hawaii, at 23.79 cents/ kWh, has a way to go before it can compete with its cousins on the mainland).

If there’s one rankings category that changes slower than a glacier moves (assuming you can find any glaciers left in North America), it’s the annual assessment of Best Business Tax Climate compiled by the Tax Foundation. The top five remains unchanged: Wyoming, South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska and Florida. Indiana moves into eighth place while Texas jumps up to tenth.


For this year’s rankings we’ve expanded our Biotech Growth Potential category to a top 10. New Jersey, a perennial top-tier biotech employment leader, has surged to the top of our annual biotech growth assessment with an infusion of new players and grant funds, backed by a comprehensive, well-executed strategy to leverage world-class research hubs, support startups and develop new industry clusters.

annual-rankings-reportNew Jersey boasts a growing, robust life sciences industry presence. The Garden State is home to 14 of the world’s 20-largest pharmaceutical, medical technology and diagnostics companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Novartis and Sanofi. In 2014, there were more than 3,100 life sciences establishments and more than 380 biotechnology companies operating within the state.

New Jersey also is home to the world’s largest clinical research organizations, such as Covance, Inventiv Health Clinical, Parexel and Pharma Trials, and world-renowned research institutions, including the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine (CABM) and the Advanced Research at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. State-of-the-art patient access facilities in the areas of neuroscience, oncology, pediatrics, cardiac and pulmonary also are located in NJ.

California, the place where biotech got its start, continues to dominate our biotech employment categories, taking the top ranking in Biotech Strength (Drugs/Pharma) and Biotech Strength (Medical Devices). Iowa remains our Biofuels Leaders (Ethanol) king, with more than three times the ethanol production capacity of anyone else.


annual-rankings-reportWe based our annual Employment Leaders ranking on the lowest state unemployment rates (it’s not a contradiction, even if it sounds like one), as compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, using their April numbers as the benchmark for this category. Our expectation when we pulled together the top 10 was that booming North Dakota—now producing nearly as much oil as Saudi Arabia—would easily repeat as our employment king. But the Rankings Report always includes a few surprises, and here’s a big one: as of April, Nebraska had the lowest unemployment rate it the country, an astonishing 2.5 percent. That’s the closest thing you’ll find to full employment on the continent, and it represents the first time the Cornhusker State notched the lowest unemployment in the nation since 1998.

To put this in perspective, second-place North Dakota has had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate every month for more than six years, thanks to the exponential growth of fracking in the Bakken shale oil deposits. But what the oil market giveth it can taketh away: as oil prices collapsed, ND’s unemployment rate headed in the other direction, rising to 2.9 percent in February. Not that we’re shedding any tears for our friends up North, since most of the other states would love an unemployment rate that starts with a 2.

annual-rankings-reportNebraska, despite a weakening of the farm economy that has led to layoffs by farm equipment makers and sellers, has created thousands of jobs in other sectors. Job-creating in NE is shifting from agriculture and manufacturing to education, health care and leisure/hospitality, with metro areas doing better than rural areas. According to a February release from NE’s Department of Labor, jobs in education and health services increased by 3,430, leisure and hospitality jobs were up 2,080, and jobs in other services grew by 1,920. Overall, there were 11,000 more jobs in Nebraska in February than there were a year before. There also were nearly 7,500 fewer people unemployed than a year earlier, when the unemployment rate was 3.4 percent.

According to the Labor Department, all three of Nebraska’s designated metro areas—Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island—had more jobs than a year ago. The unemployment rate in the Lincoln Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes Lancaster and Seward counties, dropped to 2.4 percent, down from 2.8 percent in January. The Lincoln area had nearly 185,000 jobs in February, which was up more than 2,400 from January and nearly 3,200 more than in February 2014.

Our Employment Leaders results also revealed some good news in New England, with Vermont and New Hampshire ranking fourth and seventh, respectively. Minnesota notched the best showing of higher-population states, coming in at sixth place.


If you’re a loyal reader of BF (and the BF Blog online) you know we’ve been focused for several years on the sorry state of U.S. infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers has given the U.S. an overall grade of D+ for its crumbling infrastructure, which as we all know is the grade you get when you actually flunked but the teacher feels sorry for you. ASCE estimates that the U.S. needs to spend about $2 trillion repairing and upgrading our infrastructure (including roads, bridges, dams, airports, water and sewage treatment facilities) by 2020 in order to remain competitive as a major industrial power. That’s trillion with a T and only five years from now, folks.

So we take special care when we prepare our annual assessment of the states with the Best Infrastructure. We look closely at the overall condition of basic infrastructure for each state (and ASCE’s state report cards), but we also prorate the results to reflect the size of the infrastructure that needs to be maintained in each state. We’ve also included water resources, energy transportation networks (yes, pipelines are infrastructure) and new state infrastructure investments in this year’s weighted factors, checking out state budgets to see which legislatures are putting their money where their mouth is, infrastructure-wise.

annual-rankings-reportTexas, with a lot of wide-open spaces connected by a huge network of highways and the aforementioned new wind power grid, repeats as our infrastructure champ. Tennessee and Florida also repeat as No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. The Volunteer State, home to the nation’s first Aerotropolis in Memphis, continues to upgrade and expand an unsurpassed logistics network that can move goods by air, land, rail and water.

Louisiana, which comes in at No. 4, has more than 2.5 times more natural gas pipeline than Ohio, the state with the second-highest pipeline density. Louisiana also boasts an extensive rail infrastructure—it is one of only two states where all six Class-One rail lines meet. According to the Association of American Railroads, Louisiana has more than 2,900 miles of railroad track in freight services and stands among the top third of states for rail mileage per square miles of land area. Louisiana also has unsurpassed access to global markets on water routes via the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The Port of South Louisiana is the largest water port in the United States, measured by total tonnage of goods handled.

This year, we’ve broken out a top 10 category for what you might call digital infrastructure, Broadband Leaders. Delaware, Virginia and Massachusetts take the top spots in this high-speed competition, but Utah, New York and New Jersey are coming on strong in the wired and wireless sweepstakes.

annual-rankings-reportThe Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUTAH) recently launched an interactive map called that showcases high-speed broadband and infrastructure in Utah. The tool helps businesses find the critical infrastructure information they need to make site selection decisions. It allows users to explore the state’s broadband availability, utility information, transportation, infrastructure, workforce and lifestyle features; it also allows developers to evaluate potential locations and print customized reports with detailed summaries of available infrastructure.

annual-rankings-reportStafford County, VA has put a high priority on investments in infrastructure, including high-speed broadband as well as traditional transportation projects. In 2014, the Stafford County Board of Supervisors backed $500 million in new infrastructure projects in the county. SummitIG rolled out a new fiber-optic network along the I-95 right-of-way; the company is leveraging its extensive network infrastructure across the Commonwealth of Virginia in order to deliver dark fiber networks and connectivity from Ashburn, VA to Richmond, VA.

Based in northern Virginia, SummitIG is a custom network solutions and bandwidth infrastructure provider. Completed last fall, this new dark fiber system provides unprecedented speed, security and capacity to technology-driven firms considering relocation or expansion in Stafford County. Silver Companies, a Virginia-based company, is partnered with SummitIG to deliver dark fiber to the Quantico Corporate Center (QCC) in the city of Stafford and the entire Quantico region. SummitIG plans to develop a new IX facility adjacent to facilitate the distribution of the underground dark fiber conduit system among the office buildings in QCC.

annual-rankings-reportBristol, VA (and its sister city, Bristol, TN) also has been a hub for front-running broadband service in Virginia. Bristol Virginia Utilities (BVU) started planning a fiber optic deployment in Bristol, VA in the late 1990s. By 2001, BVU had been granted approval by the Bristol City Council for a full deployment of one of the first “fiber to the premises” (FTTP or FTTU, as in fiber to the user) projects in the U.S. This pioneering effort to offer broadband Internet, cable TV and telephone service to the residents of Bristol successfully deployed a system known as a passive optical network (PON) linking more than 6000 local customers over the next two years.

Today, Bristol, VA boasts one of the most advanced broadband networks in the country, one of only a few existing FTTP deployments in the U.S. with a significant number of customers online.

We don’t usually provide coming attractions for next year’s Rankings Report in the current edition, but you can expect to see a new infrastructure-oriented category among our 2016 state rankings: Water Resources Leaders. As we detailed in the BF Blog a few weeks ago, the unprecedented drought in the Western U.S. is prompting a long-term federal response. President Obama has ordered the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation to urgently study the anticipated impact of global warming on 22 Western water basins. The Bureau will use this information to draw up “multi-decade” plans to begin rebuilding the water management system for the Western U.S.

annual-rankings-reportThe Bureau of Reclamation, created by Teddy Roosevelt in 1902, built and operates a sprawling network of 476 dams, 348 reservoirs and 8,116 miles of aqueducts across the Western U.S. Most of this infrastructure will have to be rebuilt in coming decades to efficiently distribute dwindling water resources. We’ll be tracking which states are making the most progress in our new water resources ranking.

Funding for the federal Race to the Top program was eliminated in this year’s federal budget, so we’re replacing our Education: Race to the Top Leaders category with Education: Tech Skills Leaders. These are the states which have made tech skills-oriented educational programs a top priority, including dual-credit programs in high school. This ranking also can be viewed as a predictor of which states will emerge as top tier contenders in our Workforce Training ranking (or if they’ve already made the top 10 in training, whether they’ll defend their turf), since education and training go hand in hand. The starting point for this ranking was a review of higher ed/tech school priorities established by governors in their 2015 State of the State addresses, including commitments to fund new STEM/tech training initiatives.

annual-rankings-reportTennessee, the first state to offer two free years of tech school/community college to all eligible grads (a program that was cited by President Obama as a model for the nation in his 2015 State of the Union Address), is our top-ranked Tech Skills state. The Volunteer State is aiming to create nothing less than an army of young grads with the advanced manufacturing skills to fill 21st century jobs the minute they get their diplomas.

Michigan, our second-place finisher, also has made tech skills a top priority. In his 2015 State of the State speech, Gov. Rick Snyder set a goal of making the Wolverine State the national leader in skilled trades. Michigan has created a $50-million Skilled Trade Training Fund for its community colleges, a program that has already helped more than 10,000 Michigan students obtain the skills they need to compete for advanced manufacturing jobs. MI also has set up 77 FIRST Robotics teams to help steer students with STEM skills into engineering careers.

Our third-ranked state, New Mexico, has pioneered dual-credit tech programs that give high school students a leg up on two-year Tech School degree programs. Rounding out the top five are Mississippi and Oklahoma.

annual-rankings-reportMid-America Delivers is a collaborative effort between the Mid-America Industrial Park in Pryor, OK and Mayes County schools. The Mid-America Park is home to over 70 businesses, including several Fortune 500 companies. This is the largest cluster of private employers in the region, requiring hundreds of workers every year trained in advanced manufacturing. Through Mid-America Delivers, K-12 students take tours of local 5 businesses, which are encouraged to place them in internships. The goal is to expose students to the job and career options available to them after graduation, as well as the skill-sets they’ll need to obtain those jobs. Along with their partnership with the Mid-America Industrial Park, Mayes County Schools also work with Northeast Technology Center, OSU-IT, Rogers State University and other post-secondary degree programs. These partnerships allow high school students the opportunity to be concurrently enrolled in classes to pursue a degree or credential in a career of their choice.


This year, we decided to configure our Exports Leaders ranking by the value of goods shipped instead of the amount of tonnage. After all, a ton of advanced electronic equipment is worth more than a ton of soybeans, right?

annual-rankings-reportIt’s not surprising that exports juggernauts Texas and California take the top two spots, respectively, in our exports ranking, followed by aerospace giant Washington and the Empire State.

But we’re going to declare it a reassuring sign of the resilience of the U.S. economic recovery—and a harbinger of robust growth to come—that a bevy of old school Midwest and Rust Belt powerhouses made it into the top 10, including Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. If a surging U.S. dollar is supposed to act as a damper on U.S. exports (by making them more expensive, and in turn making imports cheaper), we see no sign of that here.

Click here to read the rest of this year’s Annual Rankings Report, Metro and Global Rankings.