Austin leaders plot 2011 job growth

Bernard Weinstein, an economist and associate director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, talks about how California is vulnerable to raids from other states seeking to attract relocating businesses.

By Lori Hawkins

When LegalZoom, the Los Angeles-based online legal document provider, began scouting last year for a new regional headquarters site, it sized up 10 cities. But the final decision Austin was an easy call.

"It stood out immediately," said President Frank Monestere. "It wasn't just the cost savings, the work force or the schools. We chose Austin because it was a real cultural fit for our business."

As many U.S. cities continue to reel from job losses and a stagnant business climate, Austin is regaining its footing, thanks in part to its ability to draw outside employers like LegalZoom, which plans to hire 600 workers over the next five years.

Twenty-seven companies, including nine from California, moved their headquarters or other operations to Austin in 2010, making it one of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce's most successful recruiting years. . .

For Austin business leaders, the plan starts with placing a giant bull's-eye on California. Its ravaged economy, with high taxes and a government budget shortfall of more than $28 billion, makes the state ripe for exploiting, economists say.

"This is the time to be poaching business," said Bernard Weinstein, an economist at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University. "California is perceived as being so anti-business, and its taxes are so high, and it is so dysfunctional. The question for CEOs there shouldn't be, 'Why Austin?' It should be, 'How fast can we get there?' "

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