Four Vie for Most-Improved Title in 2012 Top States for Business

When it comes to claiming the title of most-improved in CNBC's Top States for Business, it's usually a bit of a shouting match, because a few states can make a legitimate case.

A crew from Alpha Oil & Gas Services Inc. constructs a 10 inch gas pipeline outside of Watford City, North Dakota, U.S
Matt Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A crew from Alpha Oil & Gas Services Inc. constructs a 10 inch gas pipeline outside of Watford City, North Dakota, U.S

Some states move up more spots than others. Some move fewer spots but finish higher in the rankings, usually breaking the top 10 or top five.

This year is no different. By one measure or another, North Dakota, Wyoming and Idahocan claim the honor of most improved in 2012.

North Dakota jumped to five from 13; Wyomingto 10 from 21; and Idaho to 13 from 31. And talk about rivalries. South Dakotamoved to seven from 13. (Ties are possible.)

And as long as we're on the subject of honorable mention, addArkansas, which leapt to 20 from 33.

North Dakota's big move, and breakout year, was fueled by a variety of strong showings among our 10 categories: No. 2 in Economy, No. 4 in Business Friendliness, No. 5 in Quality of Life, No. 10 in Workforceand No. 15 in Infrastructure & Transportation.

Wyoming took the top spot in Economy — bumping North Dakota — while finishing ninth in Quality of Life, and tenth in Cost of Doing Business (vs. 34 in 2011).

Idaho moved up in Business Friendliness but not much else, suggesting that its overall ascension was as much a matter of other states' slippage.

Speaking of sliders, Massachusetts is clearly the big loser (28/6). Pennsylvania(30/12), the most-improved state in 2011, also plunged in the rankings.

Florida(29/18) and Missouri (27/16) also had bad years, while Iowa (12/9) and Minnesota(11/7) fell out of the top 10.

Role of Key Categories

Dramatic changes in the overall rankings are often the result of changing fortunes in three volatile categories with heavy weightings: Cost of Doing Business, Workforce and Economy.

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

Wyoming, for instance, jumped 24 spots (10/34) in Cost of Doing Business, while North Dakota moved up 14 spots (10/24) in Workforce.

In the very important Economy category, Alabama(6/39), Tennessee(12/46) and South Carolina(25/49) improved the most, suggesting the recovery is picking up in the Southeast. Indiana(11/30) and Idaho (23/38) also merit mention.

On the down slope were two states at opposite ends of the nation: New Hampshire (34/10) and Hawaii(41/16).

Other big movers (both up and down the rankings) in other categories are:Utah(6/33), Infrastructure & Transportation;Montana (7/25), Cost of Doing Business; Virginia(16/26), a three-time winner, Quality of Life; Ohio (23/13), Education; Delaware (19/1), Business Friendliness; and Rhode Island (10/35), Access to Capital. (We're thinking yachting moguls in Newport.)