It has been nearly a week since Forbes Magazine announced its “best states for business and careers,” placing Maine at the very bottom of the list – in 50th place. Surprisingly, the report has received scant attention from Maine’s media, getting only a quick mention in the BDN and seemingly no coverage at all in the Maine Today papers.
It isn’t news, of course, that Maine ranked poorly on a list of business-friendly states, it has shown up on the bottom of lists like this for years. Forbes itself had Maine ranked the 46th most business-friendly in 2006, and the 48th most business-friendly in 2007. Last year, Money magazine ranked Maine one of the seven “worst states to start a business,” while the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council ranked Maine the 46th most friendly state for small businesses.
That Maine is a hard place to run a business isn’t news. What I find newsworthy about the Forbes study is that it gives the lie to the theory that having a poor business climate is somehow the price we have to pay for the high quality of life that we enjoy here in Maine. According to that line of thinking, which one hears quite a bit here in Maine, a state’s business climate and its quality of life are inversely proportional—the more friendly you are toward business, the worse your quality of life becomes.
In the Forbes ranking, Maine places 50th overall as a result of a series of low rankings on indicators of business friendliness. Maine ranked 47th in “business costs,” for instance, ranked 48th on “regulatory environment,” and came in 44th for “growth prospects.” By the “inverse proportion” thinking described above, our quality of life should be the nation’s very highest.
Maine’s quality of life ranking, though, was only 16th, meaning that 15 states were ranked as having a better quality of life than Maine, yet scored higher on overall business-friendliness. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, for instance, came in first, second, and third for quality of life, respectively, yet all ranked higher on overall business friendliness than Maine. The number one state in terms of overall business friendliness was Utah, which ranked 18th on quality of life, only two places behind Maine. Utah, in other words, has a quality of life almost identical to Maine, yet leads the nation in business-friendliness, while Maine ranks as the worst state for business in the nation. Forbes’ second most business-friendly state, Virginia, was 6th on quality of life. Colorado, ranking fourth overall for business climate, came in 9th on quality of life.
The Forbes list seems to suggest, then, that it is indeed possible to have a robust economy AND have a high quality of life – a number of states are there already.
The big question is, are Maine’s policymakers (and the candidates running for office this fall) listening?