PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island (WPRI) — Rhode Island remains one of the worst states in the country for business, according to CNBC’s latest annual ranking, but it once again avoided being the worst of all.
The television network ranked Rhode Island 45th out of 50 on its 2022 Best States for Business list, which was released Wednesday. That was one spot better than last year, when Rhode Island ranked 46th, and tied with 2017 and 2018 for the state’s best performance in a decade.
Rhode Island ranked in the bottom half of states in CNBC’s 10 competitiveness categories with one exception: “life, health and inclusion,” where the state ranked 16th. This category looks at indicators such as crime rates, environmental quality, health care costs and anti-discrimination policies.
Rhode Island was among the 10 worst states for infrastructure (44th), cost of doing business (47th), economy (41st) and cost of living (42nd).
CNBC again ranked Massachusetts far higher than Rhode Island, at No. 24, although the Bay State has dropped significantly since placing No. 8 in 2018. Connecticut fell to No. 29, down from 24- that place last year.
CNBC’s list and its methodology have a number of critics, but Rhode Island’s elected leaders have made it clear over the years that they care about the state’s perennially poor results in this and other national business climate rankings.
Matt Schaef, a spokesman for Gov. Dan McKee, said it was “welcome” news to see Rhode Island rise from 46th to 45th on CNBC’s list, though he played down the significance of each individual list. He pointed out that unemployment in the state is at its lowest level in more than 30 years and pointed to an analysis by Moody’s that ranked Rhode Island second nationally for a return to normal economic activity after the pandemic.
“Our FY23 budget makes critical and historic investments in improving our infrastructure—an area where our state has traditionally ranked poorly—housing, job training, and additional initiatives to improve our business climate that will help Rhode Island continue to improve in the future,” Sheaf said.
But McKee’s rivals in both parties cited the CNBC list as new evidence that Rhode Island is not making progress.
“The takeaway from this new ranking is clear: The last thing Rhode Island needs is more of the same career politicians,” said Audrey Lucas, spokeswoman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Helena Fowlkes.
“Our businesses are already struggling to deal with the red tape of state government under Governor McKee, who talks a big game about supporting small businesses but fails to provide meaningful support,” she said. “Raising small business taxes as Secretary Gorbea has proposed will only hurt Rhode Islanders more.”
(Gorbea proposed increasing Rhode Island’s corporate tax rate from 7% to 8%, a step Foulkes and McKee opposed.)
Lucas added, “Helena understands how to help Rhode Islanders start and grow businesses of all sizes, and as governor, she will create jobs so we can ensure a great future for generations to come.”
Dana Walton, Gorbea’s campaign manager, said the survey, along with a May 12 News/Roger Williams University poll of Democratic primary voters, shows Rhode Islanders “are deeply concerned about the rising cost of living.” .
“The CNBC ranking shows that rising costs and a worsening housing crisis are holding Rhode Island back,” Walton said. “Nellie Gorbea will be a housing steward and improve our economic climate by addressing the housing crisis and supporting small businesses.”
Ashley Kalus, the Republican candidate for governor, suggested that neither Democratic candidate was the answer. “Dan McKee and Democratic leaders continue to fail the people of Rhode Island,” she said.
“Today’s report confirms what Rhode Islanders already knew — the policies imposed on Smith Hill are crushing working families and crippling small businesses,” she said. “With inflation hitting a 41-year high of 9.1%, along with a new report ranking Rhode Island as the 45th worst state to do business, it’s time to say enough is enough. It’s time for a change.”
Kallus promised as governor to cut taxes and regulations while improving educational outcomes, saying, “We cannot continue down the same path we’ve been on for the last 80 years.”
The top-ranked states on CNBC’s list are North Carolina, Washington, Virginia, Colorado and Texas; just below Rhode Island in the bottom five were Hawaii, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alaska and last place Mississippi. Elsewhere in New England, Maine is 43rd, New Hampshire is 35th, and Vermont is 31st.