Right and left enjoy running down the “Obama recovery.”
Each side has its reasons for bellyaching over weak job creation, stagnant compensation growth, and unimpressive business formation. Conservatives seek to tie Hillary Clinton to the manifest failures of Obamanomics. Liberals, ignoring the community-organizer-in-chief’s contribution to lean times, seize the chance to push for universal preschool, greater subsidies to college students, and more job-training programs.
But beneath the surface of a disappointing rebound from a horrifically destructive recession, the news isn’t all bad.
It’s all in where you look. With smart policies on taxes, welfare, education, energy, and the environment, states can partially compensate for the White House’s unwavering campaign against capitalism.
Texas is a given — it barely needs to be mentioned. Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas are also widely known for economic health and population gains. So let’s head to the Midwest, and visit a state that’s easy to miss: Indiana.
In early 2010, Hoosiers endured a particularly harsh downturn, with unemployment hitting 10.9 percent. Since then, joblessness has been more than halved, and it’s now lower than the rate for the nation. (In Elkhart, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Columbus, and Evansville, the unemployment rate is at or below 3.8 percent.) A budget surplus has been achieved, and Gov. Mike Pence is using some of the extra dough to cover the $250 million owed to the federal government for an unemployment-benefits bailout.
Indiana’s refusal to embrace tax hikes has undoubtedly played a role in its economic reversal. But passage of a right-to-work law has probably had the biggest impact. Since its enactment in March 2012, 154,400 jobs have been created. Indiana’s gotten back all the positions it lost in the Great Recession, and attained a new peak — a claim not every state can make. The economic-development press has taken notice. Area Development put the Hoosier State at #6 on it 2015 “Top States for Doing Business,” and Site Selection ranked it #8 in the publication’s “Top Competitive States” this year.
Utah is another unheralded star. Those of us lucky enough to have driven through the scenic and friendly Beehive State lately know that business is booming. Unemployment is at or below 3.7 percent in Provo, St. George, Ogden, Logan, and Salt Lake City. Utah has added well over 200,000 jobs since employment bottomed out in 2010, and like Indiana, more of its citizens are working now than ever.
In Utah, limited government is the public-policy default position. So it came as no surprise when Forbes’s new analysis of the “Best States for Business” named the state, which passed a right-to-work law long ago, as #1. Utah ranked in the single digits in the magazine’s examination of costs, labor, regulatory environment, current economic climate, and growth prospects. (It faltered a bit in the quality-of-life metric, at #21.)
Some states that were hammered in the recession, but continue to struggle, are poised for comebacks. Not long ago, Arizona was decimated by high foreclosures and killer unemployment. But Forbes reports that the state “has emerged from the wreckage to be one of the brighter spots in a slumbering U.S. economy thanks in part to renewed migration.” Firms “are finding their way to Arizona as a more affordable option to West Coast locales like the Bay Area and Seattle. The state offers a diversified economy with a skilled workforce.”
To the northwest, Nevada has plenty of potential. For decades, it was the fastest-growing state. At the deepest of the abyss, its economy was worse than Arizona’s. But the salad days could soon return. Reno’s manufacturing rebound has been impressive, and to the east of the city, the country’s largest industrial park is finding tenants. No income tax, no corporate tax, and right-to-work status mean that the Silver State will always be on the radar of companies, entrepreneurs, workers, and retirees.
Alabama is cursed with above-average unemployment and a lingering reputation for backwardness. But it remains a haven for foreign direct investment. Automakers based abroad love the Heart of Dixie, and Airbus opened its “first production site in America” earlier this year. Domestic companies are attracted, too. Google is setting up a data center. Polaris is building a factory. And GE Aviation just announced a $200 million investment to create the first U.S. factory for a cutting-edge ceramic fiber.
Barack Obama’s healthcare “reform,” tax hikes, “environmental” regulations, and crusade for pricier energy have hamstrung a recovery that’s capable of more. But despite it all, there are places where prosperity is starting to take hold.
Former Nevadan D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. He lives in Corrales, New Mexico. Follow him on Twitter @DowdMuska.