Toyota's plan to close its Torrance headquarters and ship 3,000 jobs to a Dallas suburb has triggered a new round of hand-wringing among those who see business-friendly Texas gaining at the expense of regulation-choked California.
In Austin, Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a victory lap, crediting his state's low taxes and hands-off policies. Lawmakers and business lobbyists from Torrance to Sacramento said the Golden State must unravel red tape and increase incentives if it hopes to compete for jobs. They ridiculed Gov. Jerry Brown for not even knowing about Toyota's plans to abandon his state.
The trouble is that taxes, regulations and business climate appear to have had nothing to do with Toyota's move. It came down to a simple matter of geography and a plan for corporate consolidation, Toyota's North American chief told the Los Angeles Times. And in the big picture, California's and Texas' economies are growing at a similar pace, with corporate relocations -- in either direction -- representing only a tiny slice of job growth in both states.
"It may seem like a juicy story to have this confrontation between California and Texas, but that was not the case," said Jim Lentz, Toyota's North American chief executive.
Toyota left California to move its company's brainpower, now divided among offices in three states, into one headquarters close to the company's manufacturing base, primarily in the South.
"It doesn't make sense to have oversight of manufacturing 2,000 miles away from where the cars were made," Lentz said. "Geography is the reason not to have our headquarters in California."
Brown said Friday that there was little California could have done to keep Toyota from moving its U.S. headquarters to Texas.
"Change is inevitable," he told reporters after addressing the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
The two leading Republicans who are campaigning for governor in hopes of challenging Brown in November criticized him for failing to enact policies that retain major companies such as Toyota.
Neel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official, called Brown's comments "unbelievable. It's so dismissive, and it's disrespectful to the millions of Californians who are looking for jobs."
The episode highlights the outsized attention paid to the interstate scrum to woo big-name employers -- often with public money. Add in Perry's high-profile company-poaching visits to California, and the move teed up a talking point for those who argue that California must change its ways to fend off the Texas assault.
"It's a prime example of the state's unfriendly tax code and business regulations that drive businesses out of the state," said Allan Mansoor, the top Republican on the state Assembly's economic development committee. "The whole thing could have been prevented."
Economic data paint a different picture, according to experts who study job migration and creation. For one thing, poaching of jobs does little to grow the economy of any state.
The Public Policy Institute of California studied this phenomenon over a 15-year period, from 1992 to 2006. It found that less than 2 percent of jobs lost in California were due to companies leaving, and only 1 percent of jobs created were due to companies moving in.
More recent figures were not available, but experts say it's unlikely that dynamic has changed, particularly given that the number of major corporate relocations and expansions nationwide has fallen sharply in recent years. According to Conway Data, which tracks site-selection activity, the number of big corporate moves last year was half what it was at its peak in the late 1990s.
"Governors should tune out the war between the states. That's not where job creation happens," said Greg LeRoy, executive director at Good Jobs First, a think tank that tracks corporate subsidies. "Job creation happens at home."
In the big picture, Texas and California are seeing strong job growth. Since they bottomed out in the recession, both states have added about 1.2 million jobs. That represents a 12 percent gain for Texas but only 8 percent for California because of its larger job market. Texas also suffered fewer losses in the downturn.
Average wages, adjusted for inflation, have fallen in both states since 2007. But they have fallen 3.8 percent in Texas, compared to 2.1 percent in California, according to Labor Department data.
For companies that do move, corporate strategy often plays a bigger role than a state's tax or regulatory climate.
When Northrop Grumman moved its headquarters and 300 jobs to Virginia from Century City, three years ago, the company aimed to get closer to Pentagon power brokers who decided on big contracts for the company, the company's chief executive, Wesley B. Bush, said at the time.
Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum, which announced earlier this year that it would move its headquarter to Houston, wants to be closer to the profitable Texas oil patch.
Toyota's thinking is similar.
Lentz said the move grew from a conversation a year ago with Toyota global President Akio Toyoda, about how to structure North American business "for the next 50 years." The current setup, with corporate affiliates spread across the U.S., no longer made sense for a company that builds and sells millions of cars a year here.
Toyota began looking for a place to consolidate, comparing everything from climate and direct flights to Japan to cost of living and schools in 100 metro areas. It then narrowed the list to four finalists: Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Denver; and Plano, an affluent suburb of Dallas. Torrance was never on the list, in part because Lentz wanted to avoid a culture clash between different arms of corporate management.
With the company's sales and marketing staff based in Torrance, Lentz didn't want its engineering and production staffs, based in Erlanger, Ky., to think "sales was taking over."
"We needed a neutral site," he said.
Toyota did get some benefits in the move. The automaker will be eligible for $40 million from Perry's Texas Enterprise Fund, plus some local tax breaks in Plano. But Lentz said incentives were a minor factor in the decision.
Lentz, who lives in Irvine, acknowledged drawbacks to doing business in Southern California, chief among them the cost of living and length of commute times. But, he notes, that's because weather and cultural amenities, among other factors, make the region a highly attractive place to live. And Toyota will still keep a strong presence there -- a design center, race car division, parts and ports facilities -- 2,300 jobs in all.
"We are not pulling out of California," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.