RI ranked dead last in new small business survey

June 16th, 2014 at 7:30 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island has posted yet another painfully poor showing in a national survey of local business climates.

Rhode Island came in dead last – 38th out of 38 states examined – in a new survey of 12,000 small business owners published this month by Thumbtack, the San Francisco-based online services provider, and the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that studies entrepreneurship. The city of Providence also received an “F” from small businesses in Thumbtack/Kauffman’s survey of major cities.

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The anti-CNBC rankings – why RI is a well-being success story

July 26th, 2012 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

CNBC bummed out Rhode Island for the second year in a row this month when the network ranked the state dead last in its business-friendliness rankings. In response, some of Rhode Island’s boosters pointed out that the state is blessed with abundant natural and manmade assets, and 1 million people live here.

Another ranking that never makes headlines in Rhode Island tries to take some of that into account: the Social Science Research Council’s American Human Development Index, which summarizes the well-being of each state based on health, education and income.

Connecticut and Massachusetts rank #1 and #2, while poor West Virginia is the Rhode Island of this list, coming in 50th. As for Rhode Island, the state places 11th on the Human Development Index, with a score of 5.56. (The national score was 5.17.)

In an email, Sarah Burd-Sharps and Kristen Lewis, co-directors of the council’s Measure of America project, told WPRI.com what makes Rhode Island above average:

As you’ve pointed out, while Rhode Island’s economic activity puts it in the exact middle of U.S. states (#25) in terms of its Gross State Product, it does far better than this on people’s well-being, ranking #11 on the American Human Development Index. This Index offers a fact-based look at how people are faring in three fundamental areas of life – health, access to knowledge, and living standards – using official government data.

This suggests that Rhode Island has done a better job of investing its economic resources in its people and their well-being than many other states with far higher levels of market activity. While many factors come together to make a state a success in terms of well-being and opportunity, the following observations likely figure as contributing factors.

HEALTH: A resident of Rhode Island can expect to live an average of eight months longer than the national life span. In two areas that are significant risk factors for premature death in the U.S. today, Rhode Island is well above the average. It has the fourth-lowest obesity rate, just after Colorado, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Obesity contributes significantly to diabetes, a leading cause of death. And deaths due to trauma – homicide, suicide and unintentional injury – are relatively rare in the Ocean State, just above half the national average.

EDUCATION: Rhode Island stands out in terms of educational outcomes and school enrollment. R.I. ranks 13th in the proportion of adults who have a bachelor’s degree and 11th in graduate or professional degrees. R.I. also has one of the highest preschool rates in the nation, with the 6th-highest proportion of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool. A quality preschool has been shown to be one of the most important interventions for improving educational outcomes and life chances later in life, including not only less dropout and grade repetition but also in terms of reduced incarceration and greater earnings in later life.

AN INTERESTING COMPARISON: North Carolina has a very similar level of Gross State Product per person to Rhode Island, both at about $36,000. But North Carolina ranks 40th on the American Human Development Index, in contrast to Rhode Island at 11th. Life expectancy in North Carolina is two years less than in Rhode Island, the share of North Carolina adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 4 percentage points less, and the typical North Carolina worker earns about $4,000 less than in Rhode Island in terms of median personal earnings. Where Rhode Island spends about $14,000 per year per K-12 student of public spending, North Carolina spends only $8,000.

Providence is 6th-best city for hipsters, Travel + Leisure says

April 5th, 2012 at 4:45 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

For once, a list that doesn’t reference our unemployment rate:

This academia-rich New England city has a concentrated mix of artists and nerds, scoring high in the survey for its performance art and cafés. The artsy nerve center these days may be the downtown, multiuse space AS220, which boasts of stimulating Rhode Island’s “cultural mulch” through shows, a restaurant, a coffee bar, and a meeting space for the tech group Providence Geeks.

This is where I’m supposed to make a clever hipster joke, but I can’t think of one. Seattle is #1 and Portland, Maine, just beat us out by coming in fifth. But we’re way ahead of Boston (#17).

“Whatever your take, you generally know hipsters when you see them – most likely in funky, up-and-coming neighborhoods,” the magazine says. “A smirking attitude toward mainstream institutions means they tend to frequent cool, often idiosyncratic restaurants, shops, and bars – the same kinds of venues that appeal to travelers looking for what they can’t find at home.”

Bristol is the best place in RI to raise kids, BusinessWeek says

March 12th, 2012 at 11:06 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Bloomberg empire (BusinessWeek and Bloomberg Rankings, in this case) is out with the sixth annual list of the best places to raise children in all 50 states.

The winner among Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns? Bristol:

Surrounded by bays, beaches, and parks, Bristol offers more than enough to do outdoors. The town hosts concerts and Shakespearean plays in parks during the summer as well as a historic Fourth of July celebration. Bristol boasts great schools and thriving restaurants and stores.

No word on how close Central Falls came to taking the top spot.

In Massachusetts, the winning locale is nearby Franklin. The best place for childrearing in the whole country is Blacksburg, Va., followed by Arlington, Neb., and Morton Grove, Ill., according to BusinessWeek.

(h/t: Tim White)

Reed, Whitehouse are only Senate twins with 78% liberal votes

March 1st, 2012 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse got a whole lot less liberal in 2011, at least in the eyes of National Journal.

The Beltway magazine is out with the latest edition of its widely watched annual rankings of where members of Congress fall on the ideological spectrum, and Whitehouse dropped to No. 19 on the liberal list after two years on top.

National Journal put Whitehouse in lockstep with his senior colleague U.S. Sen. Jack Reed. The Rhode Islanders shared a two-way tie for 19th place, voting for liberal policies 78% of the time. Reed ranked 10th most-liberal the prior year.

Reed and Whitehouse were the only two senators from the same state who received the exact same composite scores from National Journal for 2011. But the other half of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation isn’t in agreement nearly as often.


RI policy wonks doubt 24/7 Wall St. findings on state spending

December 10th, 2011 at 6:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Does Rhode Island really lead the nation in its efforts to redistribute wealth, as 24/7 Wall St. suggested in a recent set of rankings splashed across MSNBC.com and The Huffington Post? Not necessarily, say two of the state’s leading policy wonks.

Kate Brewster, executive director of The Poverty Institute, dismissed the website’s study as half-baked and misleading. “State rankings, like this one, that combine a handful of random statistics to tell a story, often tell us nothing at all,” she told WPRI.com.

John Simmons, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, offered a more measured response, noting many of 24/7 Wall St.’s points about state spending are similar to those raised by RIPEC in publications like its annual “How Rhode Island Compares” studies.

“At the same time, the 24/7 report does not consider the economic context of these decisions, nor does it consider the outside impact of these choices,” Simmons told WPRI.com.


Study: RI ranks No. 1 among states for ‘spreading the wealth’

December 8th, 2011 at 3:08 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island has finally a topped a set of national economic rankings – but your view on whether that’s a good thing may depend on your policy preferences.

Rhode Island does more than any other state “to level the playing field by redistributing money through education spending, unemployment benefits, health care, welfare, and other means,” according to a list put together by 24/7 Wall St, which last month ranked Rhode Island No. 43 among best- and worst-run states.

“Rhode Island performs exceptionally well in all of the ‘generous’ state metrics,” the list’s three authors say. “It provides Medicaid beneficiaries with the third-largest amount in payments. It provides the unemployed with almost 46% of their previous weekly wages – the second-highest rate. Those receiving cash assistance through TANF, on average, can receive benefits for the second-longest period among all states.”


Rhode Island ranks No. 43 on new list of well-run US states

December 1st, 2011 at 11:42 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

For a second year, 24/7 Wall St has run the numbers on the best- and worst-run states in America, and this time Rhode Island is near the bottom of the barrel.

The Ocean State comes in No. 43 on this year’s list, seventh-worst in the nation. Wyoming ranks first and California ranks last. That’s down nine spots from Rhode Island’s No. 34 placing in last year’s rankings.

“Rhode Island has many positive attributes, including [a] low violent crime rate and a relatively low poverty rate,” according to 24/7 Wall Street. “However, the state’s spending is exceptionally high, and it has accumulated $8,716 in debt per capita. Nearly 20% of expenditures are for public education, yet compared with other states it has the 10th-lowest percentage of adults who have graduated from high school.”

Coming in behind Rhode Island were Kentucky (No. 44), South Carolina (No. 45), Nevada (No. 46), Arizona (No. 47), Michigan (No. 48), Illinois (No. 49) and California (No. 50). Our neighbors did a bit better than us: Massachusetts was No. 30 and Connecticut was No. 22.

Better luck next time. You can read about 24/7 methodology here. Thanks to reader GB for sending it along.

Gawker: RI ‘full of lovely things … but sadly rotten at its core’

August 22nd, 2011 at 5:19 pm by under Nesi's Notes

We’re No. 28!

Just hours after your humble blogger mused about where Rhode Island would land on Gawker’s list of the 50 worst states in America, we have our answer – and the Ocean State made the better half.

The positive portion of Gawker’s review is easy to summarize: Rhode Island’s coastline is great, as are Sakonnet Vineyards and Brown University. The negative bit is worth quoting in full:

Other than the pretty coastline, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot to do in Rhode Island. The inland parts of the state (which are, admittedly, only like 20 minutes from the non-inland parts of the state) are just bland in that depressingly New England bland sort of way, and Providence, while definitely undergoing a hefty makeover, is still a sleepy and vaguely distressing city (maybe because it fired all its teachers?). It’s also egregiously corrupt! Politicians like Buddy Cianci have been crooked and mobbed-up for years. Oh, and the Cranston/Pawtucket accent is, perhaps, the ugliest in the nation.

“Vaguely distressing”? That’s the best you can do, guys?

Also, this may be the first time in months a national article about Rhode Island didn’t mention Central Falls.

Nesi’s Nightcap will return on Tuesday.

Waiting for Gawker to whack RI in its 50-worst-states series

August 22nd, 2011 at 1:30 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Gawker is doing its own riff on those ranking lists Rhode Island leaders love to cite. Gawker’s is “The Worst 50 States in America,” described as “a journey to discover America’s worst state.”

I doubt Rhode Island will take the crown, but we may crack the Top 25. So far Gawker has run through Nos. 50-43 and 42-34 with no sign of the Ocean State as yet. We’ll be watching.

Massachusetts did quite well, clocking in at No. 49, making it the second-best state after Gawker’s home base of New York – though Fall River and New Bedford got name-checked in its discussion of the Bay State’s worst traits.

Update: The results are in. We’re No. 28!

Rhode Island jumps 25 spots in entrepreneurship rankings

August 9th, 2011 at 10:47 am by under Nesi's Notes

Maybe we’re doing something right.

Rhode Island jumped 25 spots in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s newest State Entrepreneurship Index, described as “a nationwide analysis and ranking system that compares how states stack up in terms of business formation and innovation.”

The Ocean State rose from No. 48 in 2008 to No. 23 in 2010 by UNL’s measure. Only Oregon, Delaware and Kentucky posted a bigger gain than Rhode Island. Texas also rose 25 spots.

Here’s how the school’s economists describe their methodology:

The SEI combines five key components — a state’s percentage growth and per capita growth in business establishments, its business formation rate, the number of patents per thousand residents and gross receipts of sole proprietorships and partnerships per capita — to build its state-by-state rankings.

A state index for each component is assigned based on how much each state’s performance is above or below the average of all state data, which has a value of 1.0. For example, a component one standard deviation above the average gets a value of 2.0, while a component one below is assigned a value of zero. A state’s overall SEI number is the average of the five index values.

Rhode Island scored a 1.16. Eric Thompson, an economics professor at UNL, told Bloomberg BusinessWeek why states in our neck of the woods tend to do better on these measures:

“The states where the traditional model of economic development has been starting companies — such as in the Northeast, such as California and other states in the Northwest — that tends to continue because they’ve got the investors, they’ve got a concentration of experienced entrepreneurs that allow them to create high-income entrepreneurship even in the difficult economic conditions,” he says. That’s not the case for other regions that have focused economic development more on attracting new branches of existing companies, he says.

Providence named the 10th-best city for singles in America

July 25th, 2011 at 5:06 pm by under Nesi's Notes

Looking for Mr. or Ms. Right? Apparently you’ve come to the right place.

Providence is No. 10 on Travel + Leisure magazine’s new list of America’s Best Cities for Singles. Voters in the magazine’s America’s Favorite Cities survey “love the neighborhood joints (and beer) in this Rhode Island city, where one of the best areas for meeting singles is Federal Hill,” reporter Erica Ho writes.

“You’ll find bars, lounges, and Italian restaurants that stay open late for dancing,” Ho continues. “If you’re not the bar type, you’ll do well meeting locals at the great coffeehouses or art galleries.”

Topping the list at No. 1 is New Orleans, followed by Austin, Texas; Las Vegas; New York City; and Chicago.

Providence also ranks nine spots higher on the T+L list than No. 19 Boston, which fell seven spots compared with last year.

Surprise study calls RI 10th-friendliest state for employment

June 20th, 2011 at 7:00 am by under Nesi's Notes

Nope, that’s not a typo.

Bloomberg ran the numbers and found Rhode Island to be No. 10 among the 50 states when it came to employment from 2008 through 2010. The only nine states that beat us out were Alaska, the Dakotas, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Texas, Arkansas, Vermont and Pennsylvania.

How is that possible, considering the state has had one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates for years now? Here’s how Bloomberg described its methodology:

To identify the states with the best employment conditions from 2008 to 2010, we used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each state was ranked on a scale of 1 to 50 on the changes in the estimated total employment for all occupations, the unemployment rate and the annual median salary for all occupations in the state. Scores were created by summing the individual ranks. The higher the score, the better the employment conditions in the state from 2008 to 2010.

I don’t want to be negative, but considering Rhode Island’s present condition it sure is counterintuitive for the state to score that highly in any ranking of job-friendliness. I see two things that helped us, one positive and one negative.

Rhode Island scored a 105; No. 1 Alaska scored a 147 and No. 50 Idaho scored a measly 14. Digging into Bloomberg’s three yardsticks shows Rhode Island’s total employment fell 6.3% from 2008 through 2010; its median salary rose 5.9%; and its unemployment rate increased 50.6%.

The nearly 6% increase in the median Rhode Island worker’s salary was the positive, and something I’d never read about before. A quick comparison with the other states shows salaries in the state posted some of the biggest gains in the country from 2008 through 2010. I’d be interested to learn more about that.

The negative factor is a little harder to explain, but it has to do with Bloomberg’s time frame.

While 2008-2010 captures most of the official Great Recession – it lasted from December 2007 to June 2009 nationwide – it misses an entire year of declining employment here, because Rhode Island began losing jobs in January 2007. If Bloomberg had looked at 2007-2010 instead of 2008-2010, it would have seen Rhode Island’s total employment fell 7.7% (instead of 6.3%) and its unemployment rate rose 134.7% (instead of 50.6%).

Including 2007 probably matches the actual lived experience of Rhode Islanders better. Still, it’s nice to see us near the top of an economic ranking list for once.

Related: Mass., Conn. economies have Rhode Island in the rear-view mirror (June 8 )

Good news? RI only 15th-worst state for business, CEOs say

May 6th, 2011 at 10:41 am by under Nesi's Notes

glass half-something

I winced a little this morning when I saw the headline “California is worst state for business, CEO survey says” - I’ve written about enough of these rankings to assume I will usually find Rhode Island 49th out of 50, if not dead last.

So I was a little surprised when I dug up the full list from Greenwich, Conn.-based Chief Executive magazine and found Rhode Island ranked at No. 35 – better than every other state in New England except New Hampshire, which was No. 18. Connecticut and Massachusetts were way down at Nos. 44 and 45, respectively.

Rhode Island rose four spots from last year’s list, too, when it was No. 39. The breakdown for each state is here, and this is how the magazine summarized its methodology and its findings:

More than 500 CEOs considered a wide range of criteria, from taxation and regulation to workforce quality and living environment, in our annual ranking of the best states for business. …

While the Lone Star State may not be perfect — many leaders would like to see improvements in its education system — it is Periclean Athens compared to California in the eyes of the 550 CEOs surveyed for Chief Executive‘s seventh annual report on the best and worst states in which to do business. …

Business leaders graded the states on a variety of categories grouped under taxation and regulation, workforce quality and living environment. “Do not overtax business,” offered one CEO. “Make sure your tax scheme does not drive business to another state. Have a regulatory environment and regulators that encourage good business — not one that punishes businesses for minor infractions. Good employment laws help too. Let companies decide what benefits and terms will attract and keep the quality of employee they need. Rules that make it hard, if not impossible, to separate from a non-productive employee make companies fearful to hire or locate in a state.”

Not surprisingly, states with punitive tax and regulatory regimes are punished with lower rankings, and this can offset even positive scores on quality of living environment. While state incentives are always welcome, what CEOs often seek are areas with consistent policies and regulations that allow them to plan, as well as intangible factors such as a state’s overall attitude toward business and the work ethic of its population.

One skeptical note came from business consultant Peter Schaub. He told The Sacramento Bee he wasn’t sure about the CEOs’ judgment, since the five bottom-ranked states still have huge economies. “It makes me wonder if a so-called business-friendly state is one that just rolls over for business without any regard for things like pollution, business practices or treatment of workers,” he said.

Update: Anchor Rising’s Marc Comtois takes a deeper dive into the numbers for Rhode Island, which are worse than you’d expect in light of our No. 35 showing.

(photo: Tysto/Wikipedia)

RI’s Whitehouse ranked most liberal senator – again

February 25th, 2011 at 11:27 am by under General Talk

National Journal is out with the 2010 edition of its famous annual rankings of where members of Congress sit on the ideological spectrum – and Sheldon Whitehouse was the most liberal U.S. senator for the second year in a row.

Whitehouse took the title of “most liberal” in a nine-way tie with senators from Ohio (Brown), Maryland (Cardin and Mikulski), Vermont (Leahy and Sanders), Michigan (Levin and Stabenow) and Nevada (Reid), according to the Beltway magazine. They voted for liberal policies 83% of the time.

Whitehouse’s Rhode Island colleague Jack Reed was right behind him, though, in a three-way tie for the ranking of 10th most-liberal senator along with New York’s two members, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer. Reed voted for liberal policies 81% of the time.

In the House of Representatives, now-retired Patrick Kennedy and Jim Langevin were further from the ideological extremes and also further apart from each other than the senators.

National Journal ranked Kennedy the 60th most-liberal congressman, voting that way 83% of the time, and Langevin as 120th most-liberal, voting that way 73% of the time.

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, who represents Bristol County, was in a three-way tie for eighth most-liberal congressman, according to National Journal. He took the liberal position in votes 95% of the time.

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein said the rankings showed Congress reaching “a new peak of polarization.” Here’s how he described the magazine’s findings overall:

The results document another leap forward in the fusion of ideology and partisanship that has remade Congress over the past three decades, the period tracked by NJ’s vote ratings. For most of American history, the two parties operated as ramshackle coalitions that harbored diverse and even antithetical views. … But since the early 1980s, they have vastly diminished as the differences within each party have narrowed and the distance between them has widened.

Over that period, “it’s just a straight, linear increase” in congressional polarization, says Gary Jacobson, a University of California (San Diego) political scientist who specializes in Congress. “There’s a little bit of bumping around in the numbers here and there, but the basic movement is toward the parties moving further and further apart. The 1970s are a high point of all the cross-party [coalitions]. The last three decades are ones of pulling apart.”

The magazine has been putting together the rankings since 1981. To do so, its researchers looked through all of last year’s roll-call votes in Congress – 664 in the House and 299 in the Senate – and determined which ones showed a clear ideological distinction. Just under 100 votes were used to do the calculations. More about the methodology is available here.

RI officials trying to speed up state financial filings

November 30th, 2010 at 12:52 pm by under General Talk

Earlier this month, I noted a Wall Street Journal report showing that only four states took longer than Rhode Island to finish their annual financial audits last year. Acting Auditor General Dennis Hoyle responded in an e-mail, saying his staff has been working with other state offices to speed things up:

Improving the timeliness of the state’s financial reporting has been a key objective of both the Office of the Auditor General and the Office of Accounts and Control [which is part of the Department of Administration].

We are currently working on the audit of the state’s financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2010, and have a goal of completing that audit within a six-month time frame. At this point, we are on track with meeting that goal.

Over the past year, we have worked cooperatively with the state controller to find ways to accelerate the preparation of the state’s financial statements and improve the timing and efficiency of our audit procedures. We believe those efforts will allow us to make a significant improvement in the timeliness of the Fiscal 2010 audit report compared to prior years.

If Holye and his people meet that goal, it would be a big improvement, cutting the audit’s completion time from about 280 days to 182 or so – we’ll have to check in around New Year’s and see whether they succeeded. The fastest state last year was New York, which took 115 days to file, and South Carolina was fifth-fastest at 157 days, according to the WSJ’s numbers.

RI in the slow lane when reporting its finances

November 19th, 2010 at 3:22 pm by under General Talk

Add this to your list of rankings Rhode Island wishes it didn’t lead.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that the state took 280 days after the June 30 close of its fiscal year to file its 2009 annual financial audit, a key document investors (and reporters) use to study a state’s finances.

Only four states took longer to file their audits than Rhode Island: Ohio (304 days), Arizona (311), Illinois (365) and Tennessee (402). The speediest state was New York, which only waited 115 days to file – less than half as long as Rhode Island. The numbers were compiled by Merritt Research Services.

I asked a spokesman for General Treasurer Frank Caprio why Rhode Island was a laggard on this, and I’ll update when I hear back – it’s not necessarily his department’s responsibility.

Update: Caprio’s office says the audit is the responsibility of, naturally enough, the auditor general’s office. I’ve sent them an e-mail asking for their reaction, although they have been without a leader since Ernest Almonte departed earlier this year to join DiSanto Priest & Co.