For the fourth year in a row, Forbes has ranked Maine the worst state in the nation for business.
“Not much has changed,” Forbes said Friday. “It is still burdened with an aging population and a weak economic forecast. Job growth projections are the worst in the U.S and only Vermont is expected to have slower household income growth over the next five years, according to Moody’s Analytics.”
Virginia was the best state for business, according to the annual rankings. Virginia got high marks because of strong business incentives offerings, its handling of legal claims against business and its low union membership.
Maine ranked 49th in growth prospects, behind only Wyoming. Its labor supply rank, however, was 33rd. The Pine Tree State ranked 45th for regulatory environment — another category in which Virginia was first.
Maine did better than most states — 24th — for quality of life.
Forbes placed much of the blame for Maine’s worst-in-the-nation standing on “the state’s high corporate tax burden and lousy job and economic growth forecast.”
“Job growth is expected to be the slowest in the U.S. through 2017,” a Forbes profile of Maine’s business climate states. “Maine has few big businesses located there, including none of the 1,000 largest U.S. companies by sales.”
Gov. Paul LePage made Maine’s poor ranking a big issue during his campaign in 2010 and ever since. On Friday he used a now-familiar argument that decades of Democrat rule before he took office are to blame.
“After four decades of liberal rule that has burdened Maine with high electricity rates, high taxes, overregulation and a hostile business climate, it’s no wonder that Forbes would put our state at the bottom of the list,” said LePage in a written statement. “My administration has been working hard to improve these factors for business. We passed the largest tax cut in Maine’s history, we stopped the automatic gas tax and we are directing Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative funds to reduce electricity costs for Mainers. We have cut bureaucratic red tape and we have balanced careful stewardship of the environment with the needs of the business community.”
These types of rankings, while appearing bad, should be taken “with a grain of salt,” Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, told the Bangor Daily News.
“I don’t want to dismiss them as worthless, but they don’t tell the whole story,” Connors said. “They shouldn’t be conclusive in peoples’ minds about how Maine should be looked at or considered.”
Contextual information is important, he said. Many of the factors Forbes considers when it creates these rankings — such as demographics and energy costs — are not ones that policymakers or the business community can improve in one year, or four, Connors said.
“That’s what needs to be kept in mind. None of these issue are being ignored and they all need to be put into the context of today’s economy,” he said.
If there is value in these types of rankings, it’s that they act “as a call to action,” he said.
“There’s a sense of value to them if they’re used to mobilize and help address some of the issues that hold us back or stand in our way of growth,” he said.
BDN Business Editor Whit Richardson and State House Bureau Chief Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.