Why do California firms leave the Golden State for greener pastures, and how do we keep them here? That’s the question that a group of business leaders in north Santa Barbara County are focusing on, and to help answer it, they’re bringing in one of the people who helps fast-growing Austin, Texas, snatch firms from other areas.
Gary Farmer, president of Heritage Title Co. of Austin and active in Central Texas’ economic development drive, will speak at an event hosted by the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County on June 22.
“Neither Texas nor Austin is ‘stealing’ California companies,” Farmer said in an email interview. “We are engaged in significant outreach to educate companies about the benefits of making a life and earning a living in a place that is business and family friendly.”
Farmer is one of the leaders of Opportunity Austin, a project of the Greater Austin Economic Development Corp. that aims to attract head-of-household jobs to Central Texas by recruiting businesses to the area and working to retain those that are already there. The public-private collaboration has about 375 organizations involved, Farmer said, and has raised about $33 million, mostly from the private sector, to pay for the plan.
Farmer told the Business Times “California needs to learn the benefit of fiscal prudence and regulatory predictability.”
Large companies and small businesses alike seek predictable tax policies and regulations, he said. “And the tax burden can’t be oppressively high … people, companies and jobs are mobile and will migrate to a lower cost environment if they are taxed unreasonably where they currently reside. I fear that is what is happening in large part to California.”
Opportunity Austin has welcomed 231 corporate expansions to the region, Farmer said, relocations that when coupled with organic growth of existing firms account for about 125,000 new jobs. Between 2003 and 2011, Austin led the 10 major U.S. metro areas in job creation, with employment jumping 21.3 percent.
Firms that leave California “did not decide to move to Texas — or anywhere else, for that matter — as their first decision. Their first decision was to leave California. Their next decision was where to relocate or expand if we can no longer do so at home,” Farmer said.
Lawnea Hunter of Keller Williams Coastal Valley and Santa Maria Plus Property Management is one of the leaders of the Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County. Her group is a private organization of business leaders and it has hosted a number of events focused on job-growth in the greater Santa Maria area. It also created a series of industry clusters in the area tasked with looking at specific sectors, ranging from green energy to startups to petroleum.
The region it serves is Santa Maria, Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang, Orcutt and the smaller towns in that area. “When growth happens it happens on a regional level,” Hunter said.
For more information on Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County and to get tickets ($65 each) to the June 22 event, held 8:30 a.m. to noon at the Marriott in Buellton, visit www.econnsbc.org.