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How Trump policies are triggering a state slugfest to woo business

  • President Trump is encouraging companies to move from state to state to get better deals.
  • Trump is pursuing a $1 trillion nationwide infrastructure plan at a time when states are placing more emphasis on roads, rails, ports and utilities as selling points to corporations.
  • Infrastructure and workforce — as the labor market skills gap widens — will be at the top of the list as CNBC crowns its Top State for Business 2017.

The gloves are off. States are fighting each other like never before to attract businesses and jobs.

We have been chronicling the battle between the 50 states for more than a decade in our annual America's Top States for Business ranking, but President Trump has taken it to a new level, egging on the states like no president before.

He signaled it even before taking office, announcing when then-President Elect Trump made his first big jobs deal with state incentives at United Technologies' Carrier air-conditioning plant in Indiana, that while his administration would make it difficult for companies to leave the country, "they can leave from state to state and they can negotiate good deals with the states and all of that."

President Donald Trump speaks at an event at the Carrier HVAC plant in Indianapolis on Dec. 1, 2016, during his election campaign.
Chris Bergin | Reuters
President Donald Trump speaks at an event at the Carrier HVAC plant in Indianapolis on Dec. 1, 2016, during his election campaign.

The states have eagerly taken up the challenge.

Trouble is, luring a company to set up shop in your state is not as easy as it once was, when a well-placed and sufficiently generous tax break or subsidy might have done the trick.

Nowadays before moving to a location, companies want to know what is already there.

What kind of workforce do you offer? How is the infrastructure? What is the quality of life?

Incentives and tax breaks are still important, but the cost of doing business is not the biggest battleground anymore. State competitiveness is, and always has been, a moving target.

That is where our annual ranking comes in. Our methodology scores every state on 65 metrics across 10 categories of competitiveness — the most rigorous study of its kind. Our study is specifically designed to test the states on the qualities that matter the most to business in any given year. We do that by analyzing all of the states' sales pitches and weighting our categories accordingly. The more the states are talking about it, the harder we test for it.

A war for workers

Once again, in 2017, Workforce is the most important category in our study. States are touting their workforces more than ever, and with good reason. The National Federation of Independent Business reports nearly half the members it surveyed are finding few or no qualified applicants for positions they are trying to fill. The skills gap is big, and getting bigger.

Also taking on added importance this year is our Infrastructure category — another way President Trump is changing the game. With increasing talk about a $1 trillion national infrastructure program, more states are pointing to their existing infrastructure — roads, rails, ports, utilities, etc. — as selling points for business. So infrastructure carries more weight in this year's study.

The Top States are the best all-around performers. We also measure the states on Cost of Doing Business, Quality of Life, Economy, Technology and Innovation, Education, Business Friendliness, Access to Capital, and Cost of Living. No state is perfect, but the states that put it all together — or as much of it as possible — are America's Top States for Business.

However, our annual report includes far more than just numbers. We'll look at the unique issues facing the states this year, including widespread uncertainty about budgets, health care and immigration policy.

Of course, we want to hear from you. The hashtag, as always, is #TopStates.

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