mississippi
Mississippi holds the dubious distinction of being the least innovative state in the United States. | Source: Shutterstock

A new report ranking all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. in order of their innovativeness has ranked Mississippi as the least innovative state in the country, underlining the yawning cultural and economic chasm between the poorest and wealthiest areas of the country. Put together by personal finance website WalletHub, the ranking contains a few surprises, with California not included in the top five despite being home to the San Francisco Bay Area and its world famous tech cluster.

The report was compiled using data relating to per capita R&D expenditure and 24 other STEM-related metrics, and it seeks to establish where the estimated $581 billion of R&D funds planned for U.S. investment in 2019 will go.

Least Innovative States in the U.S.

Perhaps the saddest thing about the ranking is that the only surprises are toward the top. The states at the bottom are the states most would generally expect to be there including Tennessee, Louisiana, Iowa, West Virginia, and, Mississippi.

While to a certain class of commentator, this would be prime material for making jokes about coal mines in West Virginia, corn fields in Iowa, moonshine in Louisiana, and racial tensions in Mississippi, the fact is that the situation is a little bit too complex to explain with regional stereotypes.

Iowa, for example, is a state that ranks low on the innovation list not because of some cultural failure or because farming corn is intrinsically non-innovative – however tempting such a reductive line of reasoning might sound. Its major problem is brain drain, as young people who grow up there end up moving to the big coastal cities in search of opportunities. Under these circumstances, it is hard to attract tech-related investment or R&D dollars, and this becomes a vicious cycle.

And then there is Mississippi in last place. Its biggest problem is poverty, which is rooted in the racial and historical context of the state. At 37 percent, it has the country’s largest African American population rate, as well as a poverty rate 1.5 times greater than the national average.

mississippi poverty rate
Mississippi has a poverty rate hovering around 20%, which is higher than the national average of 13.5% | Source: Statista

It also suffers from the brain drain that has devastated much of rural America, in addition to a perennial problem of extremely slow internet or no broadband access at all.

Most Innovative States in America

As mentioned earlier, California surprisingly did not make the top five. According to the ranking, America’s five most innovative states are in ascending order, Colorado, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Washington, and Massachusetts.

Despite being a largely rural state in its own right, Colorado makes the list largely by virtue of its excellent human capital development data, including nation-leading math and science performance in eighth grade.

Maryland ranks high because of its competitiveness in attracting tech investment and R&D spending.

The nation’s capital has the country’s very best human capital development score in the STEM space, ranking first in several categories including STEM professionals and job demand, share of tech investment, and science or engineering graduates.

Washington State surprisingly edges D.C. to secure the second spot, mainly driven by strong tech investment despite ranking behind its eastern neighbor in human capital development.

Massachusetts takes the crown as America’s most innovative state, riding on the back of its extremely high R&D investment share. This, unsurprisingly, is primarily due to the excellent Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which attracts world-leading investment from the U.S. and beyond. Massachusetts even managed to tie with California and New York on venture funding per capita, which may signal a power shift away from the traditional tech and finance centers of Manhattan and Silicon Valley.

The full rankings for American states can be found here.

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