Louisiana is at the bottom of another list, but one area business leader advises not taking these rankings too seriously

Published 6:03 am Saturday, May 20, 2023

U.S. News & World Report announced its “Best States” rankings earlier this month.  Louisiana is at the bottom of the list for the last five reported years. (States were not ranked in 2020.)

The American Press shot an email to U.S. News & World Report. Again? Jeanette Perez Colby, public relations manager for U.S. News & World Report, responded, “The methodology is revised between releases, so we don’t encourage historical comparisons. A low ranking doesn’t necessarily mean a state is failing, but that other states outperformed it.”

Louisiana was “outperformed” by all 49 states, coming in last  in “crime and corrections” and “economy.” Here’s how the state fared in other categories: natural environment, 49; infrastructure, 49; opportunity, 48; education, 46; healthcare, 45; fiscal stability, 38.

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First, the good news. The education score is an average influenced by a few factors, including the state’s K-12 education score, which is up five places this year.

“That’s great news for Louisiana,” said Calcasieu Parish School Board State Superintendent Dr. Shannon LaFargue. “A large percentage of our students in Louisiana were disproportionately impacted by COVID and the storms. For our state to show growth is an indication that the emphasis on early literacy is working and our school districts are demonstrating resilience despite the negative impact of those major events.”

Among the most alarming crime statistics for the state is the number of violent crimes, 639 per 100,000 people. The national average is 399 violent crimes per 100,000 people. Violent crimes include rape, robbery, aggravated assault and homicide.

Economy, Opportunity and Infrastructure

The “economy” ranking was dependent on business environment, employment and growth based on venture capital per GDP, job growth and net migration. The “opportunity” ranking was based on affordability, economic opportunity and equality. The “infrastructure” ranking looked at renewable energy usage, average commute time and roads in poor condition.

Louisiana’s cost of living index is 8.3 percentage points lower than the national average and that’s a good thing. Household median income in Louisiana is $52,087 is lower than the national median at $69,717.

The percentage of households living in poverty in Louisiana is 19.6 percent. The national poverty rate is 12.8 percent.

To give the reader an idea of what is considered poverty, that income is $14,580 for a household of one. Household size goes up to eight. A household of eight can make up to $50,560 and meet the U.S. Federal Poverty guidelines used to determine financial eligibility for certain programs. Mississippi is the poorest state. Louisiana is the second poorest. New Mexico is third poorest.

Louisiana is close to the nation’s average commute time at 25.5 minutes. On the average 19 percent of the nation’s roads are in poor condition. In Louisiana, 23.2 percent of the roads are in poor condition, and renewable energy usage here  – 3.4 percent – is way below the national average of 12.3 percent. The only state faring worse than Louisiana in the infrastructure category is West Virginia, which came in last. Known – at least in the past – for its coal production, its renewable energy usage percentage is 6 percent. However, it has more roads in poor condition than Louisiana, 31.3 percent.

Louisiana offers more opportunity than states traditionally known for being places to garner fame and fortune, New York and California, according to the Best States report, and it’s because those states have a higher cost of living than Louisiana.

Dan Groft, Director of H.C. Drew Center for Business and Economic Analysis, said, “Always take these rankings with a grain of salt. There are tons of different rankings with different methodologies, and these methodologies change frequently which means outcomes can be inconsistent. Plus, what is chosen as a metric is subjective.”

Groft noted how one category influences the others. “It’s hard to have a highly ranked economy with high crime, poor education, not a really healthy population and especially poor infrastructure. Those factors don’t contribute to a conducive environment for business growth and innovation. Then there are the persistently low rankings themselves, which doesn’t create the best image of the state in the minds of innovators and out-of-the-box thinkers that Louisiana will need to attract for economic diversification.

“Change won’t happen overnight. Just think about the time it will take to improve the state’s infrastructure. ”

Keeping the current industrial base while looking for ways to diversify, such as adding renewables and alternative refined and manufactured products to the mix as well as improving quality of life in a way that keeps and attracts businesses and residents  are a few of the most important considerations, according to Groft.

“There are no easy solutions. But there are solutions that are in progress. The Calcasieu Long-Term Recovery Plan to improve infrastructure and housing, which is desperately needed as we continue recovery from the natural disasters, and the JustImagineSWLA long-term plan which is really digging into the quality-of-life components are two examples. All the while, McNeese and Sowela are continually trying to grow and improve as the Alliance continues to attract new businesses and retain the ones we have here. All of these seem like a great blueprint the rest of the state could follow.”

The natural environment ranking is based on air and water quality. Louisiana factories release 3,533 pounds of industrial toxins per square mile compared to a national average of 926.

Louisiana outperformed California, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey and Illinois in fiscal stability. This ranking relied on long-term and short-term fiscal stability ratings, including government credit rating, budget balancing and liquidity.