To paraphrase a quote attributed to Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain, whose career took off after spending time in the Golden State, “California’s death has been greatly exaggerated.”
The national press has been in hyena mode ever since Elon Musk and Oracle decided to load up their California-built Teslas and move to Texas two years ago.
Nothing against Texas, whose governors over the years have taken great pride poaching what employers they can instead of home growing significant global economic and cultural trends, but California is still golden and Texas, well, it’s got lots of oil, but so does California.
We’ve got our own share of wide-open spaces here, such as the Mojave Desert, but we also have fertile ground. California last year produced $49.9 billion in farm products, more than the nation’s No. 2 and No. 3 farm states — Iowa and Nebraska — combined. No one competes with California when it comes to the breadth or diversity of farming innovations.
The movie industry didn’t start here, but it boomed here. Aviation contributions the state has made are legendary. The tech sector is just the latest to break the “ceiling of possibilities” and change the world.
It takes more than just having a lot of people, abundant natural resources, space, politicians happy to subsidize business using tax dollars the way some people breathe, and loose environmental regulations to inspire innovation.
Just like Texas has a sense of being that you can’t replicate elsewhere, so does California. And at the risk of sounding smug, for the most part, California’s sense of being has allowed it to keep pushing the envelope, in terms of both good and bad.
The California Dream is a state of mind spurred by the Gold Rush and kept alive by those lured to the country’s last continental frontier.
Does California have problems? You bet.
But it also has a lot of things that not only counter those problems when placed on a scale but tip them into the positive range. They run the gamut from weather to natural beauty to what is without a doubt the greatest melting pot of cultures and ethnicities on the planet.
The mixing pot blend inspired by natural beauty, fed by the fresh bounty from our fertile soils made possible by arguably the world’s greatest re-engineering of water basins, and wrapped in a Mediterranean climate is priceless.
If successful businesses were driven 100 percent by low taxes, low levels of regulations, rock-bottom land prices, and a cheap labor force, every square inch of Texas would have been paved over years ago.
But there is obviously something that Texas — which indeed has a healthy share of solid companies and great people — is missing.
It is why despite all the talk of California dying that five of the eight most valuable companies in the entire United States are not only located in the Golden State but specifically in the Bay Area.
Facebook and Alphabet (the parent of Google) aren’t getting cold feet and tripping over themselves to trade the San Francisco 49ers for the Dallas Cowboys. Both companies are actually expanding office space on a massive scale in the Bay Area, even as they reduce their global workforces.
They are also spending considerable sums to address the housing shortage they helped create while amassing their wealth, unlike Musk and Oracle’s Mark Hurd.
The same week in 2018 that Oracle and Musk said they were moving their headquarters to Texas, although they are not pulling up stakes on their sizable Bay Area footprints, Door Dash and Airbnb became public companies with soaring valuations that blew the doors off of their initial public operations.
They were then — and are still now — California companies.
What city inspired and fostered the companies? Was it Dallas? Maybe it was Austin? Could it have been Houston? Try San Francisco, the favorite “dying city” of Texas lore that has about as much truth to it as a promise made by the fictional oil tycoon J.R. Ewing.
Yes, the pandemic changed how everyone does business including big tech.
But what is prevailing as the pandemic fades in intensity is one undeniable truth: The highest concentration of tech talent, companies and capital is still in the Silicon Valley.
California is indeed far from being business friendly when you compare Sacramento edicts to those emulating from Austin.
But again, if that was all it takes, plus lower taxes to reel in the big fish, the tech pond around San Francisco Bay would have been devoid by now of everything but discarded cans, worn-out tires and soggy boots.
There is no doubt the cost of living is getting out of control, and when it comes to space the Bay Area has real issues.
The urban tech centers in the Bay Area are within miles of soaring redwoods, rugged coastlines , numerous beaches and hilly ridgelines with hundreds of thousands of acres of preserves and parks.
Let’s not forget the world-class attractions the Bay Area has. Not only does the City of San Jose anchor the valley that is the cradle of modern-day tech innovation but there is San Francisco that despite its problems is a legitimate candidate for the bragging rights as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
And if you go by what international travelers vote with their pocketbooks and feet based on U.S. Department of Commerce statistics for 2019, Los Angles was the third most popular destination, and San Francisco the fifth most popular for foreign visitors in the United States.
Peruse other such lists and sources for previous years and you will find a Texas town — Dallas — that broke into the top 20. That is, however, behind four California cities — Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Anaheim. Dallas didn’t even beat out Mickey Mouse — at least on one survey based on hotel bookings — for heaven’s sake.
As for the assumption of working remotely and the lack of housing space in the Bay Area is sending all the techie muscle that has made Silicon Valley scrambling to the Lone Star state, it ignores the real trend.
The national media since the 1970s has been attracted to stories about people fleeing California the way honey draws bees.
But the real “migration story” has been not out of state from the coastal centers of commerce and innovation has been ignored.
The vast majority of techies fleeing the Bay Area to remotely work are heading east. But they aren’t hunkering down on 80 acres an hour south of Winnemucca in Nevada or on the outskirts of Lubbock in the Texas Panhandle. They’re moving into California’s interior.
It is true California has a lot of challenges. It is expensive to live here. There is congestion in many parts of the state. You could buy a cookie cutter super-sized McMansion featuring a six-car garage with a yard the size of a football field in Texas for what a median-priced home goes for in Valley cities.
But if we’re on our death bed, Texas has been long dead and buried under six feet of red dirt.