America's Top States For Business

No oops about it: Perry has dominated Top States

Texas Governor Rick Perry
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No governor is more closely associated with America's Top States for Business than republican Rick Perry of Texas. While he won't go out on top of our rankings when he leaves office in January, the state under his leadership has spent more time at or near the top than any other.

Texas has never finished lower than second in our rankings, including this year, missing the top spot by just 18 points. The state took top honors in 2012, 2010 and in 2008, when Perry summarized his formula for success during a live CNBC interview.

"We've got low taxes, we've got a balanced regulatory climate, we've got a fair legal system, and we continue to fund an accountable school system so that we have a good, skilled workforce," Gov. Perry said.

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At the time, Texas was managing to avoid the worst effects of the growing financial crisis, thanks to the lifeblood of its economy: energy production. Within days of our 2008 interview with Perry, crude oil would set a record of $147.02 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The high price choked an already teetering national economy but provided a much-needed boost in oil-rich Texas.

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The day before we named Texas America's Top State for Business in 2008, oilman and Dallas resident T. Boone Pickens had unveiled his Pickens Plan, calling for greater reliance on U.S. natural gas reserves. Texas had that covered, too, unlocking the vast oil and natural gas deposits in the Barnett Shale.

Perry insisted there was more to Texas' success than its built-in energy advantage: "It's a smaller percentage of our gross state product than it was in 1984," he told us in 2008. By the time Texas regained the crown in 2010, Perry was claiming more of the credit.

"There is a track record. There's real predictability, and there's real stability in the leadership in Austin, Texas," he told us.

It makes you get up every day and work harder. We don't take any time off.
Gov. Rick Perry
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Gov. Perry's business record was a centerpiece of his 2012 presidential campaign, though he had already dropped out of the race before we awarded Texas its third Top States trophy that year.

Since then, the Texas governor has made himself the face of state competitiveness, fronting a slick national ad campaign to lure more jobs to the state, traveling around the country to tweak his competitors and telling CNBC in May how much he relishes the battle.

"It makes you get up every day and work harder," he said on "Squawk on the Street." He added, "We don't take any time off."

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Look for Perry to tout his jobs record again if—as widely expected—he makes another run for the White House in 2016. And look for others to downplay that record. Some already are, including a fellow Texan Ted Cruz, the Republican senator who could battle Gov. Perry for the Republican presidential nomination.

"Nothing drives me crazier than politicians who run around talking about the jobs they've created," Cruz told the Dallas Morning News in May. "Politicians are very good at killing jobs, but they don't create jobs."

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Gov. Perry himself has said his administration merely created the environment for Texas' success. But even that is open to debate.

Texas has no personal income tax, but that was the case long before Perry took office. And the state constitution, amended in 1993, pretty much guarantees it will be the case long after he leaves.

For all Gov. Perry's talk about the Texas advantage, his state finishes roughly in the middle—23rd—for overall Cost of Doing Business this year. Despite his claims of a predictable legal system, the state finishes 20th for Business Friendliness. With one of the lowest per-pupil spending rates in the nation, Texas finishes 27th for Education. And Texas has the lowest percentage of residents with health insurance—one reason the state finishes 37th for Quality of Life.

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In fact, Texas' greatest attributes have little to do with any governor. Just as it was before Perry took office, it is a big state with a diverse Texas-size economy, two of the nation's five largest metro areas and a highly developed infrastructure. Little wonder it finishes first in our Economy and Infrastructure categories.

But give Gov. Perry credit for knowing better than to stand in the way, one reason Texas finishes second for Technology & Innovation and fifth for Access to Capital. He is also a smart enough politician to take the state's success and run with it.

The nation's longest-serving governor leaves office with an enviable Top States record of three first-place finishes and five second-place finishes. If that is any guide, Gov. Rick Perry will be a tough act to follow.

—By CNBC's Scott Cohn