We were halfway through a breakfast interview in Baton Rouge, La., when Kevin Couhig the assistant secretary of industry and commerce for Louisiana, solemnly put down his coffee cup and picked up a theme that has become more than a little familiar to us during the four years that we have been publishing our survey of state business climates.
"There's a problem with states rankings," said Couhig, trying hard not to sound overly argumentative. "In a small or medium-size company, the guy who's deciding where to expand or relocate has probably never conducted a full site search before. He picks up INC. and reads the rankings, but he never looks at the page that says, 'Hey, don't use these tables to make that kind of decision.' Personally, I'd rather see you work out some sort of methodology that would allow readers to make their own state rankings."
Couhig's criticism is not unlike the sentiments of another group we heard from in the wake of last year's report. Several months ago, a delegation of officials from a state ranked near the bottom of the 1983 list dropped by our Boston offices and spent a couple of hours politely picking apart our arithmetic. These officials were upset by their state's poor performance on our charts, and they were venting some of that official frustration. More significant to us, however, was the legislative chain reaction triggered back home: It turns out that the shaky rating of the year before had spawned a number of fresh initiatives aimed at addressing the capital needs of the state's beleaguered small companies. Disheartened as the officials may have been, they had taken our survey to heart and defined their own methodology for improvement.
And that, of course, is the larger point. States that do well in our tables tend to trumpet the news, whether in press releases or paid advertisements. (Said Couhig: "Believe me, if Louisiana finished in your top five we'd be taking out ads in The Wall Street Journal.") Others drop the magazine in disgust and look to blame the messenger, not heed the message. Such head-in-the-sand thinking is small solace to growth companies who might benefit from some concerted action at the statehouse level, as Lousiana, for one, is now evincing (see "Louisiana: Green Bayou," page 122).
And state officials aren't the only ones to respond to our efforts. Last year's Report on the States, in fact, was the first INC. feature to be nominated for a National Magazine Award -- our industry's equivalent of an Oscar. In citing us in the public service category, the American Society of Magazine Editors noted that our opment dialogue and "made a demonstrable impact on an area involving the public interest." The winner in that category, an article in The New Yorker written by diplomat George Kennan, chronicled the edgy state of U.S.-Soviet relations. Demonstrably, we were keeping pretty fast editorial company. And having an impact on our peers, too.
The States Report aside, we at INC., a national business magazine with no remote bureaus, often feel frustrated, if not road-weary, trying to cover stories in all 50 states from our Boston base. Our writers are constantly on the road (and in the air), gathering the material you see here each month. Recent additions have been made to our editorial staff, however, that we think will enhance our ability to report on the business of the nation at large. Starting this fall, Joel Kotkin, Gene Stone, and Steve Coll become featured contributors to our pages.
Kotkin, former Washington Post correspondent, co-author of California, Inc., and veteran of numerous INC. features, including August's cover story on the perils of venture capital ("Why Smart Companies Are Saying No to Venture Capital"), will maintain his base of operations in Los Angeles, giving us the equivalent of a full-time West Coast editor. Stone, until recently a senior editor at Esquire magazine, will oversee, from his home in New York City, a new section of INC., which will appear early next year. And Coll, whose first INC. piece, the compelling portrait of Nolan Bushnell, graces this month's cover, will report to us regularly on national political affairs from Washington, D.C., his newest change of address. Steve was an eight-year resident of Los Angeles and feature writer for California magazine. He is also at work on a book about the breakup of American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
These staff additions certainly bolster our own confidence in being able to make INC.'s reporting -- come October or any other month -- more timely and more regionally responsive. We welcome all three aboard.