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Rick Perry, Chris Christie and JR Ewing and What Makes a Top State

CNBC's annual rankings of America’s Top States for Businessgenerate plenty of conversation every year, but this note concerning Texas’s third year at the top definitely caught our eye:

Austin, Texas
Jeremy Woodhouse | The Image Bank | Getty Images
Austin, Texas

“If Texas is the best state to do business in, then I’m the best man to do business with. Congratulations, Texas. I’ve made you number one.”

It is signed, “JR Ewing.”

Yes, Texas’s most famous fictional oil man (played by Larry Hagman), who is back in the TNT revival of the classic '80s TV series, is among those who weighed in this year. But there has been no shortage of real people with opinions as well.

On his Facebook page, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was quick to crow about his state’s success.

“Texas is the #1 state in the nation for business…again!”

“There is still a land of opportunity in America. It’s called Texas,” Perry said during his live appearance on CNBC after the rankings were unveiled. While Perry took issue with our ranking Texas 35th in the Quality of Life category—a measure that takes into account the states’ percentage of residents with health insurance—Texas can nonetheless claim overall bragging rights for another year.

But there was a different reaction in states that did not fare as well in our study.

“Something’s seriously amiss with CNBC’s inexplicable ranking metrics,” a spokesman for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was quoted as saying. The Garden State fell to 41st this year, from 30th last year, after posting declines in Infrastructure, Quality of Life, Education, Technology & Innovation, Business Friendliness and Access to Capital.

Actually, our criteria are explicable. You can find them here.

On Twitter, the director of member promotion for the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce in bottom-ranked Rhode Island wondered if her state was being penalized by its small size. Rhode Island’s population is just over 1 million.

“Do you think RI would fair (sic) better in metro comparison vs. state given our size? Notice smaller states toward bottom,” tweeted Sue Stenhouse (@SueStenhouse).

But in fact, states with much smaller populations than Rhode Island’s fared much better in our rankings, including number five North Dakota, population 683,932, and number 10 Wyoming, population 568,158, slightly more than half of Rhode Island's population.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead was proud of his state’s climb in the rankings from 21st last year.

“I believe Wyoming is the best place to invest and do business, but, most importantly, to live and raise a family,” Mead wrote in a post for CNBC.com.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who famously declared his state “open for business,” was similarly pleased with his state’s rise to number 17 from last year’s 25th place finish.

“This is a significant accomplishment,” Walker wrote for CNBC.com. “It’s not a coincidence that many of the areas CNBC looks at to determine which states are good for business are the same areas we’ve been working hard to improve over the past year and a half.”

We strive to make our study nonpartisan, but it was not lost on the Republican establishment that states with GOP governors did particularly well this year.

The Republican Governors Association correctly noted on its website that four of the five Top States have Republican governors (only number four North Carolina’s governor, Beverly Perdue, is a Democrat), and eight of the top 10 states have GOP governors (number eight Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper, is the other Democrat in the top 10).

It is worth noting, though, that 29 states have Republican governors—so odds are in their favor going in. And Democrats have been well-represented in our top five in the past, including former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (now a candidate for the U.S. Senate), whose state took top honors in 2007 and 2009 with him at the helm. Under his Republican successor, Bob McDonnell, Virginia took top honors in 2011, but this year ranked third overall.

America's Top States For Business
America's Top States For Business

Our rankings also drew reaction from executives with firsthand experience involving state competitiveness.

Greenleaf Book Group CEO Clint Greenleaf, one of 19,000 members of the Young Presidents’ Organization—which has an editorial partnership with CNBC—explained in a post for CNBC.com why he moved his firm from Ohio to Texas in 2004.

“There were a number of reasons we left Ohio, but the two biggest were that hiring was difficult and the taxes were absurdly high,” he writes. Much has improved in Ohio since then, as our study attests. The state ranked 25th this year, and finished an impressive sixth in Cost of Doing Business.

One thing Ohio doesn’t have, though: JR Ewing.

Top States For Business 2013