Enterprising States 2014: Re-creating Equality of Opportunity


This is the executive summary for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's 5th Annual Enterprising States report, authored annually by Praxis Strategy Group. View the interactive map with state-by-state data and download the full report here.

The growing skills gap is one of the most persistent challenges affecting thriving and lagging state economies—the disparity between the skills companies need to drive growth and innovation versus the skills that actually exist within their organizations and in the labor market. This disconnect, expected to grow substantially as the boomer generation retires, causes workers and companies to miss out on realizing their full potential. A sizable skills gap impacts virtually every aspect of the economy, thereby affecting our national competitiveness and, in turn, causing the economy to fall short of its potential.

The nature of the skills gap that employers face varies by geography. Each state has its own economic DNA with varying levels of growth and specialization for each industry. The energy-related skills gap in Texas or North Dakota, for example, is different from a manufacturing-driven gap in Michigan, aerospace in Washington, information technology in Utah, or the chemical industry in Louisiana.

Businesses and the public sector must work side by side to identify where there is a deficit of talent, reskill incumbent workers, and skill new entrants into the workforce to close the gaps within their communities. This is not a problem that can be solved quickly, but it can be solved. Strengthening America’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and middle-skills pipeline will require public-private partnerships as well as collaborations across federal, state, and local governments.

States as a Focal Point for Action

States and their governors play a pivotal role in filling the talent pipeline, providing critical leadership to link businesses with the education, workforce, and economic development systems. Solutions will vary by state of course, but there is an emerging framework built on a foundation of both basic education and an employer-responsive workforce pipeline.

Economic development starts with strong schools focused on 21st century skills. For the past three decades, efforts by U.S. businesses, government, and educational organizations focused on retooling K–12 science, mathematics, and reading education and on addressing persistently high dropout rates in inner cities. Progress has been slow to remedy the looming skills shortage, but there is a growing sense of optimism that industry sector partnerships, greater attention to career pathways, and the implementation of integrated education and training will help to close the gap.

An employer-responsive talent pipeline requires aligning education, workforce development, and economic development. Postsecondary education institutions now get a considerably lower percentage of their funding from state sources than just a decade ago, but states continue to make significant financial investments in higher education. Yet, a common refrain is that postsecondary offerings—at both two- and four-year institutions—are not sufficiently aligned with the skills needed in the workforce. For years, knowledge creation, research and development, and technology transfer have dominated higher education’s economic development role. However, higher education’s most important contribution to state economic competitiveness in the future might be teaching and talent production because states with the most high-level talent will have a leg up in the future economy of decentralized global networks.

Investing in people is perhaps the most effective long-term economic growth strategy. Training and education offer the best chance for workers to find well-paying long-term employment, while providing businesses and employers in every sector with the talent they need to grow.

Coordinating education, workforce development, and economic development has proven to be challenging among the states because the three fields are historically separate systems, with separate cultures and perspectives. States that are successful in navigating program integration and facilitating collaboration between these traditionally separate institutions will put themselves in the forefront of meeting one of the primary challenges to building a 21st century economy.

Because of these complexities, a governor serves the issue best by playing a leadership role in forming partnerships – particularly between business and education – and creating the structure to ensure effectiveness and efficiency in a demand-driven education to workforce pipeline. Often this involves a decentralized approach so that more decisions can be made at the local level.

Enterprising States 2014

Now in its fifth edition, the Enterprising States study measures state performance overall and across five policy areas important for job growth and economic prosperity. Those five areas include:

  • Talent Pipeline
  • Exports and International Trade
  • Technology and Entrepreneurship
  • Business Climate
  • Infrastructure

The 2014 report relates these policies and practices to the need for collaboration between education, workforce development, and economic development to positively combat the nation's growing skills gap.  

Top Performers

Utah lands in the top 6 in each of the five policy categories and 3rd in overall economic performance. It is the only state to finish in the top 10 on all six lists.

Colorado appears on 5 top 10 lists, Texas on 4, and Washington is in the top 15 of five lists.

North Dakota is another strong performer, leading by a large margin in economic performance and ranking 1st in talent metrics and 9th in business climate.

Florida and Nevada rank well on many policy measures, a sign that the economies of those states may be ripe for a turnaround.

Virginia ranks 5th in technology and entrepreneurship, and talent metrics, helping it land just outside the top 10 in economic performance.

Minnesota ranks 10th in economic performance, partly due to its second place in talent pipeline. 

See how your state ranks by viewing our interactive map. Or view a PDF of the full report.

Enterprising States is authored by Praxis Strategy Group along with Joel Kotkin. Praxis Strategy Group is an economic research, analysis, and strategic planning firmJoel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and author of the forthcoming The New Class Conflict.