Why would companies located in one of the most beautiful states in the country – California – undertake the costly proposition of relocating to places with less scenic appeal and less-than-ideal weather?
There are three answers and they relate to California’s business environment: Regulations, taxes and anxiety.
Let’s take anxiety first. Corporate leaders and business owners fear what will happen in the future regarding proposals to raise taxes on business property, extend the Proposition 30 taxes that were supposed to be “temporary,” raise cap-and-trade fees to curb carbon emissions, and impose new workplace regulations regarding family leave and health care. We’re talking about billions of dollars in new operating and ownership costs.
Some of those proposals were defeated this year. But the energy level of the zealotry in California’s legislature means they are certain to rise again in 2016 and 2017. Projecting the resulting cost and complexity in future operations causes leaders in corporations and small businesses to worry – then they worry some more over the unpredictability of it all.
About taxes: This could be discussed for hours, but suffice to say that the Tax Foundation's 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index lists California at No. 48.
The regulatory environment can be brutal. Examples include fines for trivial errors such as a typo on a paycheck stub – not on the check, just the stub – and putting into law costly overtime provisions that in most states aren’t codified in a statute.
Last year, when Gov. Jerry Brown was asked about business challenges, he revealed his aloofness by saying, “We’ve got a few problems, we have lots of little burdens and regulations and taxes, but smart people figure out how to make it.” The Wall Street Journal responded: “California’s problem is that smart people have figured out they can make it better elsewhere.”
In short, California is so difficult that companies relocate entirely or, if they keep their headquarters here, find other places to expand.
In an effort to offset Sacramento’s head-in-the-sand approach to business concerns, my firm completed a new study that provides details of business disinvestments in the state. Over the seven-year period that includes last year, the study estimates that 9,000 businesses disinvested in California in favor of other locations.
The study shows that 1,510 California disinvestment events have become public knowledge and provides details on each and every event. Site selection experts I've been in touch with conservatively estimate that a minimum of five events fail to become known for every one that does. One reason is that when companies with fewer than 100 employees relocate it almost never becomes public knowledge. Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that about 9,000 California disinvestment events have occurred in the last seven years.
Los Angeles County #1 in Losses
The study found that the Top Fifteen California counties with the highest number of disinvestment events put Los Angeles with the most losses at No. 1, followed by (2) Orange, (3) Santa Clara, (4) San Francisco, (5) San Diego, (6) Alameda, (7) San Mateo, (8) Ventura, (9) Sacramento, (10) Riverside, (11) San Bernardino, (12) Contra Costa tied with Santa Barbara, (13) San Joaquin, (14) Stanislaus and (15) Sonoma.
The report excluded instances of companies opening new out-of-state facilities to tap a growing market, acts unrelated to California’s business environment. It also points to shortcomings in Federal and state reporting systems that result in underreporting of business migrations. Those factors reduced the number of California losses.
It is easy to verify circumstances described in the report since every disinvestment event is public information, is outlined in detail and sources are identified in endnotes.
When a company launches a site search, it always wants to examine potential costs. I’ve seen many business people smile upon learning that operating cost savings are between 20 and 35 percent in other states. By the way, the appeal isn’t necessarily to the lowest-cost states, but to lower-cost states with the proper workforce.
The Top Ten States to which businesses migrated puts Texas in the No. 1 spot, followed by (2) Nevada, (3) Arizona, (4) Colorado, (5) Washington, (6) Oregon, (7) North Carolina, (8) Florida, (9) Georgia and (10) Virginia. Texas was the top destination for California companies each year during the study period.
Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) benefiting from California disinvestment events, in the order starting with those that gained the most, are: (1) Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, (2) Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, (3) Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, (4) Reno-Sparks, (5) Las Vegas-Paradise, (6) Portland-Vancouver (WA)-Hillsboro, (7) Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, (8) Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, (9) Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta and (10) Salt Lake City tied with San Antonio.
Offshoring still occurs, and the Top Ten Foreign Nations that gained the most put Mexico at No. 1, followed by (2) India, (3) China, (4) Canada, (5) Malaysia, (6) Philippines, (7) Costa Rica, (8) Singapore, (9) Japan and (10) United Kingdom.
Capital diverted to out-of-state locations totaled $68 billion, a small fraction of actual experience because only 16 percent of public source materials provided capital costs for the 1,510 events. Moreover, the top industry to disinvest in California is manufacturing, a capital-intensive sector, and more detailed knowledge of this industry alone would likely increase the capital diversion.
As California companies relocated or expanded facilities elsewhere they transferred more than capital – they also shifted jobs, machinery, taxable income, intellectual capital, training facilities and philanthropic investments.
Indicators are that California’s business climate will worsen, enhancing prospects that more companies will seek places that are friendlier to business interests.
The report is based exclusively on news stories and company reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the California Employment Development Dept. Although all entries are based on public information, it’s rare for so much data to be gathered into one report.
Read the full study: “Businesses Continue to Leave California - A Seven-Year Review” available as a PDF here.
Joseph Vranich is the Principal of Spectrum Location Solutions, a Site Selection firm that helps companies identify optimum locations to accommodate growth or to improve competitiveness. In doing so, he conducts an in-depth analysis of business taxes, the regulatory climate, labor rates and lifestyle factors.