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What do all these 'business climate' lists add up to?

BY Peter Van Allen

7/23/2018

We run lists all the time that offer Maine's economy or business climate in the context of the United States.

Recently, CNBC ranked Maine No. 45 as a place to do business. Texas ranked No. 1. Among a range of 10 basic criteria, Maine ranked dead last for its workforce, which is apparently about the lack of workforce because business people I know are always talking about Mainers' work ethic. It ranked in the bottom half of all but one category, quality of life.

WalletHub ranked Maine's startup community No. 32, which seems respectable. The state has a range of funding and mentorship programs for startups, and there are pitch competitions that stoke the fire.

We're all weary of the annual Forbes magazine ranking of Maine's business environment, which most recently pegged the state at No. 46. (North Carolina tops that list.) The magazine's listing, which is released in the fall, offers a brutal assessment of the state's prospects for business, with the most recent list ranking it in the bottom five for regulatory environment (No. 49) and growth prospects (No. 48).

As the race for governor heats up, the Maine's economy will take center stage. Southern Maine has a strong real estate market, new hotels are being built and unemployment is at a historic low. But much of the rest of the state is still hanging on from the last recession, waiting for a return of an industry or outside investment.

We can all look at success stories in Maine — the publicly traded companies, the new headquarters, the expanding businesses, the house in our neighborhood that had multiple bidders. It's entirely likely, much like the Census numbers and economic reports, those lists of business climate lag the reality, most likely by years.

Our next governor would do well to look at Maine's image outside of the state. It's been pointed out more than once by the list makers that the Pine Tree State is known for its quality of life. CNBC's recent survey ranked Maine No. 15 in this regard, while Forbes put us at No. 13.

But, as it's been said, you can't eat scenery. Whether it's a reality or the perception, prospective investors from outside Maine see those lists from Forbes and CNBC and others and form opinions. Those opinions have a lasting impact on our economy.