CNBC again names Virginia best in the nation for business

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Business news network CNBC named Virginia this year’s “Top State for Business” on Tuesday, welcome news for Democrats who control state government and are defending their record during a critical election year.

With previous wins in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2019, Virginia surpassed Texas for most years at the top of the ranking since CNBC debuted it in 2007, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said in a news release. CNBC did not publish the rankings in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“I could not be prouder of what this says about the inclusive, common-sense policies that we have put in place and how they encourage business investment,” Northam said, speaking at a news conference at the Port of Virginia with other Democratic elected officials.

The network’s methodology scores the states in ten categories including infrastructure, workforce and education, “weighted based on how frequently the states cite them in their economic development marketing pitches.” In a new category called “Life, Health and Inclusion,” Virginia earned points for voting rights and anti-discrimination laws, areas that have seen sweeping change since Democrats took full control of state government in 2019.

The General Assembly has passed reams of progressive legislation, reshaping a once reliably conservative state into an outlier in the South. Among those measures are an anti-discrimination law that added protections for LGBTQ people and changes to voting access, including a massive expansion of early voting and the repeal of a voter ID law.

CNBC noted that Virginia’s worst category was cost of living, where it finished 32nd in the nation. And it was 26th in the cost of doing business category, hurt by the 11th-highest wage costs in the nation, CNBC reported.

In this year’s competitive race for governor, a rare off-year election drawing outsized national attention, jobs and the economy have been a central issue.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee, is facing Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former co-CEO of private equity firm The Carlyle Group.

The two have offered starkly different perspectives on the state of Virginia’s economy, with Youngkin often arguing that Democrats have driven Virginia into “a ditch” and that the commonwealth hasn’t recovered from the pandemic as well as some of its peer states.

In a statement, Youngkin spokesman Matt Wolking emphasized Virginia’s two lowest rankings in the methodology, saying: “Virginia may be #1 for political correctness, pushing critical race theory in schools, and not requiring a photo ID to vote under Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, but Virginia ranks among the worst states when it comes to things that actually determine the success of small businesses and opportunities for workers.”

McAuliffe, who was previously in office from 2014 to 2018, said in a statement that Youngkin’s “right-wing agenda” would put all of Virginia’s “progress at risk.”

“His focus on divisive social crusades, Trumpian conspiracy theories, and threats to defund our schools would jeopardize our economic progress and take our Commonwealth back,” McAuliffe said.

Northam, who cannot seek a second consecutive term under state law, said in an interview that Youngkin’s repeated assertion that Democrats have driven Virginia into a ditch show he’s either out of touch with reality or being untruthful.

“What I would encourage him to say is, ‘Congratulations, Virginia, for a job well done,’” Northam said.

Control of the House of Delegates is also up for grabs in November, with all 100 seats on the ballot.

Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday they remained concerned about the impact of Democrats’ policies, including a major clean energy bill, on Virginia’s economy in the long term.

“Our ranking from CNBC reflects where Virginia has been, not necessarily where it’s going,” Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment said in a statement.