Just before baseball’s All-Star game showcased the best in major league talent, NBC News reported that its affiliate, CNBC, had released its America’s Top States for Business list. In the starting lineup of states that make business and jobs their passion, Maine was out of contention.

Among the 50 states, Maine did move up one place, to No. 39, from to the previous year’s overall rankings.

The best among the 50 franchises was Texas, followed by Virginia and Colorado. Among the New England states, Massachusetts was fifth, New Hampshire was 19th, Connecticut was 35th, Vermont was 37th and Rhode Island was 49th.

The overall state rankings were a compilation of 10 scores measuring everything from the cost of doing business to transportation. Maine’s quality of life ranked sixth among all states.

Maine inched forward, from 40th to 39th, in the cost to run a business. But when assessing our work force, CNBC dropped Maine two places, from 45th to 47th. The work force is one of the most important factors for business, according to most employer surveys, as it rates education levels, availability of workers and union activity.

If attaining the status of simply being average is an accomplishment, then Maine scored big time for its economy, moving from 26th to 25th. This rating measured basic indicators of economic health and growth. The lack of major corporations in Maine appeared to hold us back from a higher ranking.

The state was dinged for its transportation infrastructure, dropping from 36th to 41st. Maine did not score well for availability of airline flights, quality of roads or the value of goods shipped by all modes of transportation.

Maine remained stuck at 41st for technology and innovation, which measures funding for innovation, patents issued to residents and deployment of broadband Internet. With the introduction of the Three Ring Binder project — which will bring high-speed Internet connectivity to more Maine enterprises — as well as recent research and development grants, Maine should move up in this bellwether ranking in the next few years.

Education was acknowledged as the key to providing a skilled work force. This measure included elementary and secondary education test scores, class size and spending. Maine improved from eighth to seventh in the nation by these objective measures.

However, understanding that our K-12 education costs are among the highest in the nation and our teacher-to-student ratio is one of the lowest, one might assume that our K-12 scores masked our less-than-adequate funding for the state’s universities and community colleges.

Regulation and litigation were measured to determine business-friendly rankings, in which Maine dropped from 24th to 28th. Next came access to investment capital, a rating in which Maine shared the bottom ranking with 12 other states.

Finally, when measuring what we pay for food, housing, energy and other monthly expenses, Maine dropped from 38th to 39th.

There’s no question that Maine can do better, as most of these measures are based in public policy decisions made in Augusta. If all states are roughly equal under federal law, it is the decisions made in state capitals that differentiate us. If we took some lessons from similar-sized states that were ranked in the top third overall, we could begin to work our way up the ratings.

For example, Iowa (sixth), North Dakota (seventh), South Dakota (12th), Nebraska (13th) and Wyoming (14th) all did better than Maine and all had a lower cost of living.

There’s a myth about Maine that needs to be challenged. This is not the best place to live and work. While we choose to be here, there are other places that are doing a lot better. They also have residents who choose to be there for all the same reasons. With a state challenged to attract younger workers, investment capital and innovators, Maine’s Legislature and its people need to improve their attitudes toward business.

Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, is to get business owners to see beyond their own enterprises and get involved in the broader issues of higher education, public policy and international trade. These are the factors that will bring new money across our borders. A change in attitude and behavior will foster a generation of excited entrepreneurs whose innovation will carry this great state into a fun, prosperous millennium.

It takes practice and commitment, but it will produce an All Star performance that may put us in contention for America’s Top States for Business. Let’s play ball.

What do you think, and what are willing to do about it?

Tony Payne is a lifelong Maine resident who is active in business, civic and political affairs. He can be reached at:

[email protected]