Mamma Mia! CNBC Says Virginia #1 for Business, but Chief Executive Mag says #13.

by Chris Saxman

Beauty, the Greeks started saying back in 3rd century BC, is in the eyes of the beholder.

CNBC announced today that Virginia is the Top State for Business in 2021. That’s great news!

They rank their top 10 states: Virginia – North Carolina – Utah – Texas – Tennessee – Georgia – Minnesota – Colorado – Washington – Ohio.

Chief Executive Magazine in April ranked their top 10 states thusly: Texas – Florida – Tennessee – North Carolina – Indiana – South Carolina – Ohio – Nevada – Georgia – Arizona. Virginia comes in at #13 for them.



Forbes in 2019 had Virginia at #4 and US News had the Commonwealth at #7 back in March of this year.

If you take the four rankings and then rank those? (No, you don’t add and divide by 4 which would get Virginia to 6.25.)

North Carolina/Utah tie at #1, Virginia is #3 followed by Florida – Tennessee -Texas – Colorado – Washington – Ohio.

Each ranking is based on different metrics and the internal rankings are not consistent at all.

Take Infrastructure for example – CNBC says Virginia is #24. US News says, nope, Virginia is #39. Forbes doesn’t use infrastructure as a separate metric at all in their rankings.

Chief Executive surveys CEOs who have just three criteria in ranking site selection – Taxes, Regulation, and Talent. (I would offer a more alliterative – Tape, Taxes, and Talent in order to get more clicks – but since they haven’t called…)

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So which is it? Does it even matter?

First of all, yes it matters.

Marketing matters in attracting financial and human capital. It also helps a great deal in the most overlooked/never used metric — retention of said capital. As any business owner worth their salt will tell you, it is far less expensive to keep a customer than to gain a new one.

While we tout, herald, and exhort (and should) from the tops of mountains whenever we attract a new customer to the Commonwealth, nary a word is ever said when one leaves. ExxonMobil — Norfolk Southern — Advance Auto just to name a few.

And let’s be honest here — Virginia’s #1 customer is and always will be the Federal Government. Go back and take a look at our rankings during Sequestration.

Ya know what? Don’t.

Let’s stay focused on the future as that is the #1 Main Thing for business and politics.

No one votes or invests on the past. We all bet on the future.

The past merely informs.

My role here is to help deepen the conversation in order to find where Virginia policy makers as well as business leaders can focus their efforts so that we are not just beating the competition at home, but also abroad.

Our economy is global and so is the competition.

A couple of years ago, an obvious political hit job by a British NGO — OxFam — put out (just before Labor Day during the 2019 elections) a hilariously awful ranking declaring that Virginia was LAST in the nation for workers. The goal of this was to gain momentum to repeal Virginia’s Right to Work statute. More on that later… we need to talk…

How could Virginia be first in the nation for business, but last for workers? That didn’t compute. So, I created a ranking based upon ten objective criteria and Virginia came out at #6. Click that link to see for yourself or for the narrative put out click here.

I used rankings for Happiest, Greenest, Safest, Transportation, Affordability, Health, Median Income (#9), Unemployment, Higher Ed, and K-12 public schools.

Virginia was only behind Minnesota — Utah — Massachusetts — Iowa and Vermont.

So, what’s the point in all of these rankings? Like polls, they are snap shots in time, but they also can be very instructive. The nuggets are in the cross tabs/metrics.

Policy makers should look into each metric (CNBC uses 85 and US News 70) and see what needs to be done (and NOT DONE) to stay ahead of our competitors. Check to see if any overlap — like Cost of Doing Business (CNBC – 26) and Cost of Living (CNBC -32). Those have been a Caution Light as opportunities for improvement. Virginia might be #1 overall, but #26 and #32 in Costs?

Virginia – Expensive But Worth It! is probably not the next state marketing motto.

Costs matter and are a contributing factor in one of Virginia’s worst rankings — Net Migration. We rank #35 in Net Domestic Migration and #12 in Net International Migration.

According to this UVA’s Weldon Cooper Center report:

Today, migration patterns have reversed, with Virginia attracting thousands of new residents every year from the Northeast but losing an even larger number of Virginians who have moved south to fast growing metro areas and popular retirement communities. In 2018, the most recent year IRS migration data is available, nearly 15,000 more Virginians moved to either Florida, the Carolinas or Texas than residents of those states moved to Virginia.

As has been the case for decades now, people are moving to Virginia for good jobs and good schools. BUT when those are not the factors — meaning retirees and young college graduates looking for less expensive housing and lower taxes — Virginia is losing.

Like all polls, there are Good Numbers and some Uh Ohs.

Virginia is far better off than just about every state, but there are Warning Signs flashing namely on costs. Our competitor states are attracting our future talent (higher ed degrees that we subsidize) and our current wealth (retirees).

If we are to stay ahead and, according to at least one ranking, on top, Virginia is going to need focus on the economy of the future.

The magazines may make news with substantive and instructive rankings, but be mindful that CEOs, regardless of company size, make decisions — every day and usually years ahead of today’s rankings.

So, Virginia…take a bow!

Pop a cork, crack a cold one, and high five each other.

We earned it.

Tomorrow, it’s back to work where policy matters.

And, trust me, we need to talk.

p.s. the whole rankings thing and the Greek beholding of beauty got me to thinking about a scene from Mamma Mia! Set in Greece, Meryl Streep’s character – Donna – is confronted with three former lovers showing up to her daughter’s wedding. Donna doesn’t know which one is the father and suddenly they are all back! In the end, Donna chooses Sam (Pierce Brosnan) over Harry (Colin Firth) and that science guy from The Avengers, Bill (Stellan Skarsgard) who is also the ill-fated Soviet sub commander in The Hunt for Red October. Ah.

p.p.s – Why this scene and why Pierce Brosnan? Well…

  • Beauty – like polling and rankings – is in the eye of the beholder. Today, we behold CNBC and thank them for pointing out what so many of us already know — Virginia is a great state for business. CNBC is a Pierce Brosnan compared to Colin Firth and that sub commander anyway. Yeah, we’re looking at you Forbes and US News. Chief Executive Magazine…
  • Meryl Streep. Enough said. *But her singing…* NOT ANOTHER WORD. It’s Meryl Streep!
  • ABBA. Who doesn’t like ABBA? This video has 513 MILLION views. C’mon…admit it…you like ABBA.

Chris Saxman is executive director of Virginia FREE. This column is republished with permission from his Substack publication, The Intersection.

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23 responses to “Mamma Mia! CNBC Says Virginia #1 for Business, but Chief Executive Mag says #13.”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    Anyway you cut it, Virginia is among the front runners! And NOT the best for government but the best for business! And we rank high in K-12 academics – despite the naysayers on the right!

    For all the gloom and doom from Thomas Jefferson and other Conservative NGOs , you’d think Virginia was Arkansas or Mississippi but NO, we’re actually not bad, maybe even pretty good!

    But I do understand, no matter what, Conservatives have to look at the downside, it’s just in their genes – except of course when they are in charge – then it’s positively nirvana even if the Governor is taking Rolex watches from some who want government to pay more attention to them!

    1. Chris Saxman Avatar
      Chris Saxman

      Not looking at the downside. This is good news – which I state in the article.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    So, even by Saxman’s ranking, Virginia came out sixth best for business. That is not chicken feed.

    And, as for all those Virginia retirees going to Florida and Texas, he cites cheaper housing and lower taxes. I would add another factor–warmer weather.

    1. Brian Leeper Avatar
      Brian Leeper

      Warmer weather? It’s 95 degrees here right now with a “Feels Like” temperature of 103 degrees. mean in the winter? Yea, Virginia doesn’t have that going for it either.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        Wait, you don’t believe that in ten years Virginia’s weather will match Mexico’s? And in 20 will be Equatorial? Hahahahahaha

        1. Brian Leeper Avatar
          Brian Leeper

          No, and I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if this winter we get another cold snap with temperatures below 5F (I think it actually got below 0F here one winter).

          1. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Coldest I remember was -4F. I woke up smelling furnace gas, and went into the carport utility room to check the furnance stepping on the concrete barefoot. It was like walking on nails. That was early 80s. Loved that house, mid century modern, lots of glass, long eaves, great views, but really enjoy having a garage now.

            The furnance exhaust on all the neighbors’ houses was cascading down the roofs. It was weird.

          2. Brian Leeper Avatar
            Brian Leeper

            My heat pump actually stopped working. After much digging I found that Trane has configured the defrost control board to disable the compressor if the outdoor temp is below -7F. At the time was saying that the outdoor temp is 0F but that’s measured in an urban area several miles away. So it may well have been below -7F here.

          3. WayneS Avatar

            Somewhere down around -20 F in Blacksburg one January day (early-mid 1980s) when I was going to VT.

            I put on my snowmobile suit (over several other layers) and rode my motorcycle to campus from my apartment, only to learn that classes had been cancelled for the day.

            The daytime high temp did not get out of the 20s for about 5 straight days that week.

            Nowhere near as cold as in the foothills of the Ural mountains during December of 2002, though.

          4. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Okay. I’ll bite. What the Hell were you doing in the Urals in 2002? BTW, skiing is a suitable answer.

          5. WayneS Avatar

            Adopting a child.

          6. Nancy Naive Avatar
            Nancy Naive

            Even bettah”

          7. WayneS Avatar

            Yes it was.

        2. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          Equatorial weather is where it’s at, not to hot, not to cold.

        3. LarrytheG Avatar

          All those air conditioners running and running are needing electricity – and I wonder what kind and worry about how much if we are getting warmer and warmer… 2 days without HVAC and 95 degrees in the house …

          1. Brian Leeper Avatar
            Brian Leeper

            One could move out of Hells Kitchen to a cooler climate…

    2. Chris Saxman Avatar
      Chris Saxman

      More like 3rd among all the rankings – very good. Sure there are some metrics of concern, but as I said pop a cork, crack a cold one – and tomorrow, back to work.

    3. DJRippert Avatar

      It’s chicken feed until it converts into equally high employment growth and state GDP growth. Until then, it’s just another media outlet full of journalists (rather than businessmen or entrepreneurs) puffing their theories about how important inclusion laws are to real businessmen.

      1. Brian Leeper Avatar
        Brian Leeper

        I’m not holding my breath.

    4. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Yeah, but if those retirees had just hung in they may have gotten waterfront, and warner weather.

  3. DJRippert Avatar

    Only politicians and retired politicians care about these rankings. I can’t imagine anybody making decisions as to where to locate their company’s centers of employment give a rat’s ass. I certainly didn’t when I was making such decisions. In fact, I’m involved in one right now as a consultant. Virginia is not on the list anywhere.

    Meanwhile, on a personal note, one of my sons who had been working as a CPA / Auditor for a Big 4 firm just relocated from Northern Virginia to Texas with his girlfriend (also a CPA). Why? Cost of living and quality of life in NoVa. As an aside, my son graduated with honors in accounting at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He doesn’t know a lot about Dallas. He just knows it’s not NoVa.

  4. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Don’t worry, Republicans. When the Hampton Roads cities sink into the Bay, Virginia will drop to a solid 30.

    Colonial Heights Shipbuilding & Dry Dock. Gotta nice ring to it.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      When is that going to happen? The last time I was in Virginia Beach (2019) the old Cavalier Hotel was the same distance from the ocean as it was when I was growing up there in the 1960s-70s.

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