Capital: Activity at the money centers

1. California

2. Connecticut

3. New York

4. Texas

5. Massachusetts

6. Minnesota

7. Colorado

8. Illinois

9. Oklahoma

10. Wyoming

High interest rates, as the past couple of years have painfully shown, can be catastrophic for small companies, wherever they are. Generally, states can do very little to mitigate borrowing costs for small companies. Apart from the cost of funds, though, capital resources vary widely from state to state. What is more, the types of resources in place in the state and how they are being used can be critical if, like most companies, yours cannot meet all its capital needs. Therefore, capital resources, along with state support programs, receive our heaviest overall consideration in ranking the states' climate for small business.

To see now the states stack up in terms of capital resources for small business, INC. looked first at two sets of banking industry figures -- total state commercial bank loans as a percentage of total assets, and commercial and industrial bank loans on a per capita basis. While these measures don't tell what types of businesses are getting the loans -- or even whether all the funds are being lent within the state -- they usually reflect the degree to which banks are using their asset bases for aggressive lending to meet the working capital needs of business.

INC. also analyzed the states for special capital programs, such as direct loans, loan guarantees, bond guarantees, and state-sponsored venture capital investing, in the belief that these can help bring capital other than working capital to small companies. Because most experts believe that even small-issue industrial revenue bonds tend to benefit large companies and their subsidiaries with solid credit histories, we didn't consider IRBs. Finally, INC. looked at small business investment company (SBIC) investments in the states on a per capita basis, as an indicator of the relative availablllty of venture capita.

California, with its aggressive banks and active SBICs, emerges as the state with the most extensive capital resources for small business, a distinction it certainly would have earned more easlly had all sources of private venture capital been included. Next come Connecticut and New York, whose ranks reflect thelr active banks, SBICs, and the targeted capital programs in place. Oklahoma and Wyoming aren't usually thought of as states with substantial capital resources, but both benefit from high levels of SBIC investments and per capita commercial and industrial bank loans.

South Carolina, West Virginia, and Delaware emerge as the states where a lack of capitai resources -- or an unwillingness on the part of commercial banks to lend -- poses hurdles for growing small businesses. For instance, commercial and industrial lending in these three states is anemic compared to that in the rest of the states. Low levels of bankng activity within a state can, of course, stem from depressed loan demand in a slow economy, but conservative bankers seem to be at least as great a factor.

Labor: The Plains states set the pace

1. Wyoming

2. North Dakota

3. Nevada

4. Kansas

5. Nebraska

6. Arizona

7. Colorado

8. New Hampshire

9. Utah

10. South Dakota

When it comes to labor, the needs of different types of small businesses vary substantially. Most companies, of course, are interested in keeping labor costs down as much as possible. But few can afford to ignore requirements involving sklll and concerns over productivity.

In examining labor markets within each state, INC. looked at comparative wage levels for manufacturing and at comparative levels of unionization, whlch can be a factor in high wages. But in addition to factors affecting the price of labor, INC. also compared the states by levels of productivity and by levels of education among workers.

For productivity, the question was how much each worker added to the value of manufactured goods. In education, the percentage of state residents over the age of 18 who have completed high school was considered, although companies needing highly skilled employees might consider the number of engineering graduates.

At the top of the chart for labor are Wyoming, North Dakota, Nevada, Kansas, and Nebraska. Among these high scorers, however, Kansas is the only state with low union activity. None of the 5 states ranks among the top 10 in terms of low wages. In all but North Dakota, however, 73% or more of their residents over the age of 18 hold high school degrees.

Poorest performers in the labor category are West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. They have work forces in which only 53% to 67% of the workers hold high school degrees, and all are heavily unionized in their major industries. In addition, wages for Illinois and Indiana workers average among the highest for manufacturing in the nation.

State support: Kentucky leads the bandwagon

1. Kentucky

2. New York

3. Illinois

4. California

5. Wisconsin

6. Ohio

7. Delaware

8. New Jersey

9. Mississippi

10. Kansas

Official state recognition for small business won't make or break small companies very often, but it can give them a boost from time to time and help create a positive business climate. Programs that provide reliable information or technical assistance, for example, can save business operators both time and money.

INC. surveyed the 50 states to identify those that address the concerns of small companies through small business assistance offices, ombudsmen, statewide small business conferences, standing legislative committees, and governors' advisory councils. Nine states have created new legislative committees in the past year, bringing the number of legislatures with small business committees to 21. What is more, 13 governors have recently formed new advisory councils, bringing to 29 the number of states with that form of small business support.

The number of states committed to purchasing a specified portion of their goods and services from small businesses -- usually 5% to 15% -- has also increased substantially. Twentyfive states currently have procurement set-aside programs, 10 of which were established in the past year.

Kentucky, New York, and Illinois emerge at the top of the charts for official state support for small business. They are the only three states in the nation with a full array of the programs measured in INC.'s survey. But even more noteworthy is that, in the past year, 25 states have upgraded their small business support activities.

The most improved state is Delaware, which installed four new components to its small business support: an assistance office, an advisory council, a legislative committee, and a procurement program. Almost as impressive is New Hampshire, which added three programs but still lacks an advisory council.

Among the other states demonstrating increased support are Mississippi, Kansas, Rhode Island, Maryland, and Missouri.

Texas: Indiana takes the smallest bite

1. Indiana

2. New Hampshire

3. Missouri

4. Ohio

5. Tennessee

6. Alabama

7. Florida

8. Texas

9. Arkansas

10. Kansas

As unpleasant as taxes are to many small companies, their importance to a state's overall business climate is seldom on a par with such factors as capital and local resources. Nevertheless, the level of state and local taxes that businesses and individuals must pay tells something about whether it is possible to operate and grow in that state.

Since states tax businesses so differently -- by income, payroll, or inventory, for example -- and vary greatly in terms of tax credits allowed, state officials and tax experts agree that any direct comparisons are nearly impossible. Instead, INC. focused on the overall level of state and local taxes as related to each $1,000 of personal income -- a measure that can be examined on a stateby-state basis. By this measure, Indiana's tax rate of $88 per $1,000 was the nation's lowest, followed by New Hampshire ($92), Missouri ($93), and Ohio and Tennessee (both with rates of $94).

The state with the highest tax was Alaska at $368, although in reality nearly all of the state's revenue is drawn from big energy companies. (In fact, most Alaskans pay no state or local taxes.) New York, where individuals pay $163 per $1,000, was No. 2, although it has just enacted new rules for start-ups (see page 101). Following New York are Hawaii and Wyoming (both $148) and Massachusetts ($139).

Such tax burdens are comparatively stiff. But tax specialists and economists point out that high state taxes rarely influence a business decision about whether to start up or expand in a particular location -- except in the unlikely event that other variables are equal. For one thing, higher taxes can mean better services and schools. "If you can sell 10 times as many widgets in New York as you can in Mississippi or Alabama, you don't mind paying those high taxes," says a national tax partner for a Big Eight accounting firm. "Taxes are usually just the tail," he says, "not the dog."