Why Texas for business? Ed Curtis Jr. delivers some answers in his new book out today – “Why Texas: How Business Discovered the Lone Star State.” He interviewed 19 CEOs and entrepreneurs who shared stories about how and why they relocated to Texas. Luminaries such as Tim Ferriss, Andy Roddick, Kendra Scott, and T. Boone Pickens give enlightening stories and commentary.
I spoke with native New Yorker Ed – who got to Texas as fast as he could – about why he wrote the book and what he discovered. As a Texas commercial banking executive for 20+ years, he witnessed an increasing number of clientele relocating their businesses to Texas. Ed spent most of 2012 with then Governor Rick Perry and his Office of Economic Development, where he visited with businesses interested in relocating and expanding into Texas. As a result, in 2013 Ed founded YTexas, an elite Texas business network that helps support, promote, and connect companies that want to move or expand into the state.
What is your aim with the “Why Texas” book?
“The book identifies six reasons why companies and individuals are not only moving to Texas, but staying here. The goal is to educate employers and entrepreneurs, and the employees and families being asked to relocate here, on what to expect and how to successfully transition. We hope it will be educational even for people who chose not to move here and are just interested in the Texas Mystique.”
So, why Texas? You’re an import. Why did you come to Texas?
“So I was kind of a country boy to some extent, because I grew up in upstate New York. I moved to New York City in my 20s to pursue my career like most people do. It was great and I loved it. But I looked at it and said, ‘I can’t spend the rest of my life here.’ I chose Dallas because I had a client there, which I write about in the book. It was kind of a test run, and the next thing I know I moved.”
What were the big shocks and the big pleasant surprises when you got here?
“What was interesting to me was obviously how nice and welcoming people were. I don’t like using this word because it’s overused, but I liked the ‘can do’ attitude. It really hits you as soon as you land here. I think a lot of people don’t expect it until they get here. As soon as I got bitten by that entrepreneurial spirit, that kind of kicked my life into gear. That was probably the biggest surprise to me.”
People perceive cultural differences between Texas entrepreneurs vs. those in say Chicago or New York. Do you agree?
“Yes, I mention this in the Why Texas book. In the big cities, I think the way you call on customers is a market share play, right? You knock on enough doors, and you’ll make the sales. It’s very impersonal, and obviously the markets are vast so you can be extremely successful. In Texas, it’s not that way. When you knock on the door, they want to know what problem you’re trying to solve, and how they can help you. Whether it benefits them directly or not, they’ll help you if you strike a chord with them. The way you market and gain presence in Texas is really more about what you stand for. Whether I know you or not, I will give you a shot if I like what you’re doing.”
Yes, there’s a certain small town aspect to it: Who you are is maybe more important than what you do, or where you come from. My perception about New York is that it’s more about what firm you work for or the offering. In Texas, it’s really more about dealing with the person. Would you agree?
“One hundred percent, and what I found interesting from my interviews is that it’s present in every major region. You see it in San Antonio and Houston and Dallas and Austin. It’s very consistent.”
You make some comments in the Why Texas book about the different cultures in each main city. How would you describe those?
“Ironically, every person I interviewed said that their city was the most giving, most caring, and most collaborative of any city in the state! And of course, you know Austin, they definitely put themselves on the mantle for that. But every other city thinks the same, and in reality they are. I mean, every city is facing its own challenges of course. People who reside in those cities are passionate about helping it solve whatever issues exist.
I think Austin and Dallas are also seeing that it’s a global economy now and are extending their hands out to other regions. For example, the Capital Factory and other organizations that you thought would never venture outside of Austin are now doing business in other Texas cities. Then there are other cities that don’t receive as much attention, like San Antonio. They have historically been much more low key on purpose, and I think they’re realizing that they need to come out of their shell.”
Are there some people you visit with who just say, “I’m not going to Texas,” and write it off?
“That’s another great question. And, yes, I experience that a lot. I’ll tell you where I experience most of it is with trailing spouses. If it’s a meaningful enough proposition for the family to move, the spouse moves reluctantly, and in many cases either leaves a job and/or family behind. But then, they’re usually the ones who say this is the best move we ever made. They end up reinforcing the fact that they’re never moving again. And that’s nice. One chapter in the book is about family and how it’s extremely important to your transition to ensure that the entire family is happy here, and most of the time they are.”
How would you encourage CEOs to engage with employees’ family members? Often you can’t tell people about a move much in advance, but you discuss how Toyota got to tell people three years in advance. Most of us don’t know if we’re going to be in business in three years!
“Yes, the chapter right after Toyota is about a company called Corvalent, and that’s a great chapter to read on this issue. Having a great culture makes a big difference. Toyota’s culture is all about family and taking care of the employee, so it was easier even though they had a three-year lead time. Granted, three years makes it a hundred times easier!
Corvalent CEO Ed Trevis had a situation where he had 50 employees to relocate, and initially only five agreed to move to Texas. So he started at the top like Toyota did and flew all the key decision makers to Austin. He took everyone to the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, where they watched a movie about Texas history and culture. After spending a lot of time educating the staff and flying additional employees and their families to spend weekends in the city, more people wanted to relocate than he could afford to move.
So, the long-winded answer to your question is if you can afford it, try to get some people to come visit and bring the spouses and the kids. Help them understand the community you’re moving into or considering moving into. It makes a world of difference.”
You’ve got famous names in here and a few that people may not recognize. Who had a particularly interesting story that you didn’t know before starting the book?
“Andy Roddick and Kendra Scott were great. Andy is a very down to earth person, and from a very young age, he fell in love with Austin. What I wrote in the book is literally two days after he won the 2003 U.S. Open, he flew to Austin and bought a house. The reason he had to wait until after the U.S. Open is that’s really when he could afford it. And so, obviously, it’s been great getting to know Andy. He was definitely one of my favorites.
And then Kendra Scott, I mean, if anyone could sell Texas, it’s Kendra. She’s from Kenosha, Wisconsin, and moved here as a teenager. She got bitten by the entrepreneurial spirit from an aunt who was a fashion director at a Milwaukee department store. Kendra basically said the secret to her success was starting her business in Austin, Texas. So, it was interesting to hear the two of them – Kendra and Andy – very humbled by the state.”
Are you concerned about anything that might slow this migration of people and businesses to Texas?
“It’s important to keep that entrepreneurial spirit and independent mindset that you’re responsible for yourself. Keep our friendly culture, seek collaboration, maintain our high quality of living, and never lose pride in our state. If we lose that, it could definitely hurt us. Also, Texas is a problem solving state. I mention in the book that when people move here, they’re pretty surprised not so much by the limited government, but how the government just doesn’t get involved in things that maybe some think it should.
Then usually what happens is the private sector figures it out. The next thing you know, we’re innovating in industries we never would have if the government had tried to help solve or subsidize the problem. However, as we grow it’s a balancing act. The last Texas legislative session gained bi-partisan support in managing our escalating property tax rates while also investing in education. These are paramount issues we will continue to face as our population grows.
I think if we can manage that balancing act and be true to our state, it will sustain what we’ve got here. You see what’s happening in California with people leaving because of the cost of living. Many highly intellectual people and high net worth people are coming here. Losing them to other states could hurt us as well.”
Ed’s book is available here: https://www.amazon.com/Why-Texas-Business-Discovered-State/dp/1612543316