Formosa Plant

Formosa Petrochemical Corp. announced Monday that is has selected St. James Parish for a $9.4 billion chemical manufacturing complex. 

To call it a mixed bag is an understatement, if you want to find out where Louisiana stacks up with other states in business.

Louisiana ranked No. 2 in the South for the strongest economic development results in 2017 by Southern Business & Development magazine, based on the state’s share of capital investment and job creation projects.

Louisiana trailed only Kentucky, which earned “state of the year” honors by the magazine, according to Louisiana's industry hunters.

But with all rankings, there are complications: what is ranked, and when it is ranked, and how much reflects transitory good news and long-term negatives in state economies.

We're 44th among the states in the CNBC network's list of best places to do business, for example. Not so great, maybe. On the plus side, we’re not just ahead of West Virginia and Mississippi, but also Maine and Rhode Island.

So what's ranked?

We can hear the outrage already if people look at some of the parameters for such studies. CNBC, for example, ranked Louisiana 49th for "quality of life." What? The Mardi Gras state, the festival state, the joie de vivre state?

The reason for the ranking? What is scored: "the crime rate, the quality of health care, the level of health insurance coverage and the overall health of the population," among other things.

Environmental quality and the presence of statewide anti-discrimination protections are also measures of inclusiveness and make a state more attractive to workers in a knowledge economy.

Well, maybe we deserve to be dinged on those.

Our point is not to knock this rating or that, but simply to note that we are entering a re-election year in 2019 for governor, Legislature and other important posts. There will be much debate about the budget and the level of taxes (although CNBC rates Louisiana well in its costs of doing business) but also policies that reflect choices we make.

We are a state where it's easier to sue businesses and each other, and that's a cost. Rankings like those of CNBC also consider the opinion of businesses, so a right-to-work state and low levels of union membership are considered positives. Some workers might not agree.

Narrower rankings like Southern Business focus on big wins for both capital investment and job creation. Broader rankings like CNBC are heavily influenced by factors that take a long time to change, such as the educational attainment of the population, growth of high-quality colleges and so on.

We don't know if there is a perfect measure out there but we know that every ranking ought to be looked at as an indicator, and not the final word.

One big truth: We know we're a long way from where we want to be.

Louisiana ranks No. 2 in South for economic development by magazine