Virginia wins CNBC Top State for Business in 2021

State repeats victory of 2019

Ralph Northam appears on CNBC on July 13, 2021.

Virginia was named CNBC’s top state for business for the second time in a row, beating out North Carolina and Texas, as well as being the first state to win the honor five times, the network said Tuesday morning.

The state won the news network’s competitiveness rankings for a second time as well. In 2020, CNBC did not rank states due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ralph Northam appeared on CNBC Tuesday morning after the announcement. “When you do the right thing for people, it’s not only the right thing, but it’s good for business,” he said, alluding to the measures the state has taken toward equity, diversity and inclusion. In July 2019, when Virginia last won CNBC’s top state for business, Northam was still in hot water over the revelation of a blackface photo in his medical school yearbook. This year, the state is coming out of the pandemic, with more than 70% of its residents having been at least partially vaccinated against COVID.

Virginia’s 2019 win was a bright point, coming after the state had fallen to 13th place in 2016. The 2019 win was attributed to Virginia’s landing of Inc.’s East Coast HQ2 in Arlington.

In an interview with CNBC, Virginia Port Authority CEO and Executive Director Stephen Edwards said, “We’ve seen a remarkable V-shaped recovery from COVID. May 2021 was an all-time record for the port, 56% bigger than we were last year, and significantly above 2019.”

“Today’s ranking reaffirms what we already knew — Virginia is the best state for business,” Virginia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barry DuVal said in a statement. “The ranking reflects our long-standing investments in workforce training and our robust education system, while also recognizing the increasingly inclusive nature of the commonwealth. This ranking validates our approach to maintain Virginia’s standing as the top state for business through long-term planning efforts and targeted policy recommendations as part of Blueprint Virginia.”

Virginia landed on top of No. 2 North Carolina, which marks that state’s best finish in the study’s history. Maryland ranks at 12th, the most improved state by moving up from its 2019 ranking of No. 31.

“Virginia continues to be the best place to do business because of our world-class education institutions, talented workforce, and shared commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Northam said in a statement Tuesday. “I am proud of what this coveted recognition says about the policies we have put in place and how they are driving growth and innovation across our commonwealth. Our success is a blueprint for creating a vibrant economic climate in the post-pandemic world — and proves that when you lift everyone up, when you treat people right, and when you celebrate diversity, it’s also good for business.”

CNBC based this year’s rankings on 85 metrics — up from 64 metrics in 2019 — in 10 categories, including workforce, education, life, health and inclusion, access to capital, cost of doing business and cost of living. This year, cost of doing business was the most heavily weighted category, which had previously been taken by workforce. The top category is determined by states’ economic development marketing.

Virginia topped the education category, which is based on multiple measures of K-12 education including test scores, class size and spending, as well as the number of higher education institutions in each state. Virginia also did well in workforce, coming in third. The workforce category considers factors like the availability of workers, the concentration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) workers, union membership and right to work laws and the diversity of each state’s workforce.

The commonwealth ranked 11th in the life, health and inclusion category, which CNBC previously called quality of life. The change reflects the addition of inclusiveness and public health measures, like voting rights and COVID-19 vaccination rates.

Northam told CNBC, “We’ve had a number of elections here in Virginia. They’ve been safe. We’ve had accurate results…We want to make it less cumbersome to vote.”

Northam also addressed the public health metrics.

“Initially, it was tough to get PPE and then testing supplies. We’ve had a very successful vaccine rollout in Virginia. Over 73% of Virginians have now had their first shot or two,” he said.

Virginia scored 1,587 out of 2,500 points.

The runners up included:

2. North Carolina, which was helped by Apple putting its first East Coast campus outside Raleigh but hurt by the lack of statewide public accommodation law to protect non-disabled residents against discrimination, CNBC wrote.

3. Utah, with the third-best economy, according to CNBC.

4. Texas, which was hurt by policies that counted against inclusiveness metrics and an underfunded public health system, plus the highest rate of uninsured and a low COVID-19 vaccination rate.

5.  Tennessee, which appeared in the top five for the first time, thanks to its second-best economy and eighth-lowest cost of doing business, the most heavily weighted category, according to CNBC.