Dennis Persica: Business likes N.O., but state ... not so much

CNBC, the cable channel devoted to business news, each year ranks the “top states for business.”

There was a time when Louisiana was ranked 42 out of 50. As in golf, a lower number is better in these listings.

You might think this happened during the time when Edwin Edwards (lovingly referred to as “the crook” by supporters in one campaign) was governor and his friend and fellow Democrat, John Alario Jr. of Westwego, was speaker of the state House of Representatives. A time when the state’s public workforce was bloated, teachers unions had a death grip on the education apparatus and labor chief Victor Bussie had most of the state’s officials in the palm of his hand.

Actually, Louisiana achieved that ranking last year, when Republican Bobby Jindal was governor, state workers were being cut along with their benefits, unions were in decline three decades after the bruising fight that brought “right-to-work” to the state and Republican John Alario Jr. of Westwego was president of the Senate.

Last week, CNBC dropped Louisiana to 43rd place in its 2013 rankings. Trouble in Sportsman’s Paradise.

No. 1 on the list is South Dakota, which pushed our neighbor, Texas, out of the top spot. CNBC touts South Dakota for its low cost of doing business, one of 10 factors on which the ranking is based.

South Dakota “offers one of the lowest tax burdens in the country — no individual or corporate income taxes,” the CNBC web site says. You might remember that Jindal wanted to do away with corporate and income taxes earlier this year to spur business, but eventually jettisoned that idea. So score one for the governor.

However, CNBC.com says South Dakota also has “low sales and property taxes.” Jindal, on the other hand, wanted to raise state sales taxes to compensate for the loss of income tax revenue. So even if it could eliminate its corporate and individual income taxes, Louisiana would have a hard time trying to mimic South Dakota on the sales-tax front.

You can’t expect property taxes in Louisiana to decrease either. Businesses have long complained that the homestead exemption shifts the property-tax burden to them, so it’s unlikely that property taxes would be lowered by increasing the exemption.

In the education category, CNBC put Louisiana in 40th place. Many will be surprised we did so well there.

In “quality of life,” Louisiana was dead last. That’s the real killer, since the state – and New Orleans especially — attracts so many people who say they like our lifestyle.

Ratings like these can be fickle. Earlier this year, for example, Chief Executive magazine ranked Louisiana much higher —11th place — in its annual list of “best and worst states for business.”

New Orleans, meanwhile, has been on fire. Last year, it was 29th (out of 200) on Forbes magazine’s list of “best places for businesses and careers.” This year, Forbes ranked New Orleans third out of 317 cities in the growth of information-sector jobs.

The Brookings Institution this month placed the New Orleans area second in the nation in the strength of its recovery from the Great Recession.

We all remember the time when New Orleans was losing businesses, not only to places like Houston, but also to other Louisiana jurisdictions such as Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

Now, the world’s turned upside down: The city’s getting some love from the business set, while results for the rest of the state are mixed.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column, he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.