Top States for Business
Virginia is America's Top State for Business 2021
Top States for Business

The top 10 states winning the talent war in 2019

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Do you feel wanted? If you work for a living, you should. Skilled workers are in short supply across the country, thanks to a historically low unemployment rate of 3.7% and a strong economy. As a result, companies are locating and expanding in the states with the best workforces. Attracting and keeping talent is the biggest battle in the war between the states for business. It was a driving factor in Jeff Bezos' decision to locate his second Amazon headquarters in Northern Virginia.

That is why Workforce is the heaviest-weighted category in CNBC's 2019 rankings of America's Top States for Business, worth nearly 20% of a state's overall score in the competitiveness study. In order to gauge each state's workforce, we look at a variety of metrics, including the number of available workers and the states' ability to attract and retain them; the percentage of adults with college degrees; the concentration of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) employees; state worker training programs; union membership and more.

Here are the 10 states attracting and retaining the best talent.

10. California

Employees walk in Google's main campus in Mountain View, California on May 1, 2019.
AMY OSBORNE | AFP | Getty Images

Californians are known for their laid-back attitudes, but this state's workers are among the most productive in the country. They churned out more than $152,000 in economic output per job last year — the second highest in the nation (after Alaska). Concerns about a mass exodus because of the state's high taxes and other issues have thus far been unfounded, at least where it counts — among college-educated adults. Nearly 300,000 people with a bachelor's degree or higher moved into the state in 2017 — the most recent year's data available from the Census Bureau — while fewer than 180,000 moved out.

2019 Workforce score: 290 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: B)
Unemployment (May 2019): 4.2%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 34.5%
Workers in STEM occupations: 7.4%
Right-to-work state? No

8. (tie) New Hampshire

A group of students meet on the lawn outside Webster Hall on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Cheryl Senter | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Workers in the Granite State are well educated. The percentage of adults with bachelors' degrees or higher is the 10th best of any state. And those educated adults are staying put. New Hampshire is also in the top 10 for the percentage of workers in STEM jobs. The state could be a victim of its own success, however. The unemployment rate has been falling steadily, to the point where worker shortages are a serious concern.

2019 Workforce score: 302 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: B+)
Unemployment (May 2019): 2.4%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 36%
Workers in STEM occupations: 7.2%
Right-to-work state? No

8. (tie) Colorado

STEM Highlands Ranch high school freshman Jaeden Toy, right, talks with students at Arickaree High School via high-tech video conferencing equipment, which includes a 360 camera.
Andy Cross | Denver Post | Getty Images

The Centennial State ranks among the most educated workforces in the country and has the fifth highest concentration of STEM workers. But the state and its business community are not resting on their laurels. A nonprofit coalition of business organizations, Colorado Succeeds, promotes STEM education in the state. Last year the group unveiled Vision 2030 — named for the year today's kindergartners will graduate from high school — aimed at modernizing education to produce an agile workforce.

2019 Workforce score: 302 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: B+)
Unemployment (May 2019): 3.2%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 39.6%
Workers in STEM occupations: 8.8%
Right-to-work state? "Hybrid" system allows union shops, but with restrictions.

7. North Carolina

Professor Aziz Sancar (2nd L) poses with his assistants (from left to right) Yanyan Yang, Fazile Canturk, and Yiying Chiou in their research area at the University of North Carolina Medical School after Prof. Sancar was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in Chapel Hill, USA on October 7, 2015.
Samuel Corum | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The Tar Heel State is a right-to-work state with the second smallest union presence in the nation (after neighboring South Carolina). Workers are flocking to the state, including a healthy concentration of STEM employees. Unemployment is above the national average, meaning there is a large pool of available workers for companies to choose from.

2019 Workforce score: 312 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: A-)
Unemployment (May 2019): 4.1%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 28.9%
Workers in STEM occupations: 6.2%
Right-to-work state? Yes

6. Maryland

Maeva Millan, postdoctoral researcher, works in a lab at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, on October 9, 2018.
IVAN COURONNE | AFP | Getty Images

No state has a higher concentration of STEM workers than the Old Line State, which also boasts America's fifth best-educated workforce. The Maryland STEM Festival is a month-long celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math aimed at preparing the workforce of the future. Maryland workers are productive, generating about $133,000 of economic input per job last year.

2019 Workforce score: 313 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: A-)
Unemployment (May 2019): 3.8%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 39%
Workers in STEM occupations: 9.4%
Right-to-work state? No

5. Massachusetts

Emily Benz, uses the window to teach equations during the SHINE after-school program, set up by an MIT student to combine math tutoring and dance to get girls more interested in and less intimidated by science.
Joanne Rathe | Boston Globe | Getty Images

The Bay State is perennially home to one of the finest workforces anywhere. It has America's most educated workers, the third highest concentration of STEM employees, and the state's worker training programs are top notch. But Massachusetts slips from last year's top ranking in this category because of worker shortages—unemployment is below the national average. A heavy union presence also counts against the state.

2019 Workforce score: 319 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: A-)
Unemployment (May 2019): 3.0%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 42.1%
Workers in STEM occupations: 9%
Right-to-work state? No

4. Texas

Apple unveiled plans Thursday for a $1 billion campus in Texas that will create jobs for the tech giant outside Silicon Valley. The new campus -- for engineering other functions, but not manufacturing -- will be near the tech giant's existing facility in Austin and initially accommodate 5,000 new employees, with room to grow to 15,000.

Can more than 200,000 new Texans be wrong? That is how many adults with bachelor's degrees or higher moved into the Lone Star State in 2017 from other states or abroad, while only about 120,000 moved out. Texas has an abundant and productive workforce with minimal union membership, and it is a right to work state. But Texas workers are less educated than most on this list, and the state could use more STEM employees.

2019 Workforce score: 321 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: A-)
Unemployment (May 2019): 3.5%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 28.7%
Workers in STEM occupations: 6.3%
Right-to-work state? Yes

3. Washington

Boeing Company hiring managers from various locations gather to interview people during a job recruiting event in Seattle, Washington.
Barry Sweet | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Evergreen State's fast-growing economy — the best annual GDP growth in the nation again last year at 5.7% — is a natural attractant for educated workers. They are flooding into the state. Washington also has the nation's second highest concentration of STEM workers, after the aforementioned Maryland. Unemployment is above the national average, meaning many of those educated workers are available for hiring. The home of Boeing's manufacturing operations does have a heavy union presence.

2019 Workforce score: 325 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: A)
Unemployment (May 2019): 4.7%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 34.5%
Workers in STEM occupations: 9.2%
Right-to-work state? No

2. Arizona

Ping irons sit on a calibration table as a technician bends the club face to fit a specific customer's swing profile.
Tim Rue | Corbis News | Getty Images

People have been flocking to sun-drenched Arizona for years, but it is not just retirees anymore. The state has lately been enjoying an influx of educated workers, and with the nation's third highest unemployment rate, many of those smart people are available for smart companies to hire. Overall, though, educational attainment of Arizona's workforce is on the low side. Arizona is a right to work state with little union presence.

2019 Workforce score: 328 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: A)
Unemployment (May 2019): 4.9%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 27.4%
Workers in STEM occupations: 6.6%
Right-to-work state? Yes

1. Virginia

Ann-Audrey Ezi, L, gets a high-five from Amber Smith-St. Louis of the Norfolk Navy Shipyard after Ezi's floating aluminum foil structure held the most marbles, 27, before sinking during a naval engineering session at FOCUS (Females of Color Underrepresented in STEM) camp at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.
Jahi Chikwendiu | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Workers in the Old Dominion are well-educated, and many of them make their living in high-tech STEM fields. Not many of them belong to unions in this right to work state. Virginia's worker training programs get solid results, with nearly 80 percent of participants parlaying the experience into a job. Educated workers are not migrating into the state in a big way, but that could change following a number of important economic development wins—including Amazon's HQ2 project.

2019 Workforce score: 347 out of 450 points (Top States Grade: A+)
Unemployment (May 2019): 3.0%
Adults with bachelor's degree or higher: 37.6%
Workers in STEM occupations: 8.9%
Right-to-work state? Yes