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May 28, 2014
Joe Mathews: Toyota's move to Texas shows California's strength

Toyota.JPG(May 28 - By Joe Mathews, Zócalo Public Square)

I pulled my rental car over to a curb in Plano, Texas, next to the site of Toyota's future North American headquarters, to be staffed by thousands of workers transplanted from Southern California.

I had flown into Dallas the previous evening on Virgin America (headquarters in Burlingame) and had a full tank of gas, from a Chevron (San Ramon) station. Pulling my iPhone (from Apple of Cupertino) out of the pocket of my Gap (San Francisco) pants, I Googled (Mountain View) food options in Plano and learned the town had a new Trader Joe's (Monrovia).

But the iPhone also told me that there were two In-N-Out Burgers (Irvine) nearby - one 10 minutes away on the other side of Plano, and the other just four minutes away, in the city of Frisco.

As I drove over to get my Double-Double fix in the heart of North Texas, a question occurred: If California and Texas really are in some sort of contest for cultural and economic supremacy, why do so many people labor under the delusion that Texas is winning?

Yes, California has an above-average unemployment rate and other economic problems, and many of our people and companies are relocating or expanding to states like Texas that offer cheaper living and generous economic incentives. But there's another way to look at these departures of Californians and California companies: as a colonization of Texas and the rest of the country.

This colonization is not a sign of decline but of our success. Texas and other states are trying to steal our culture, our companies, and our jobs because we have so many things worth stealing.

During a weeklong trip to Texas, I could hardly take a step without running into a California import.

In-N-Out opened its first two restaurants in Texas in 2011; today there are 21 along the I-35 corridor connecting Dallas and Austin, and San Antonio is eagerly anticipating its first In-N-Out by year's end. Trader Joe's began a major expansion into Texas in 2012. Gap's website lists more than 60 locations in Texas. And Apple is building a new facility in Austin so massive that it could be the largest private sector employer in Texas' capital by 2016.

Yes, it would be nice to see companies like Apple expand more in California. But California is not a vault designed to keep valuables inside.

We need our people and companies to expand around the world. Unfortunately, back home, the movement of Californians out of state has fueled a fear of abandonment that's turned into panic, at least in some business circles. And that panic is inspiring some very wasteful policies: San Francisco's incentives to keep Twitter; Sacramento's borrowing to keep its basketball team; and L.A.'s mania for tax giveaways to keep production in Hollywood.

Such panic-induced policy isn't merely wasteful or foolish. It takes money and focus away from what California needs to do: Make it easier to create new things so wonderful that Texas will want to steal them away.

And inventing the new is costly and difficult: It requires bigger investments in education, cheaper housing and simpler governance, including the elimination of costly and time-consuming regulations.

The bad news is that we haven't made much progress on these long-term projects. The good news is that, the more wonderful things that Texas imports from California, the more people will move there, and the more crowded and expensive Texas will become.

That's how colonization works. So, like a 19th century Englishman seeking high tea in Siam, this Californian visited In-N-Out Burger outlets across Texas. And I was not disappointed. The burgers and fries were just as tasty. The T-shirts sold in Texas depict the L.A. skyline.

And just as in California, my burger wrapper, reflecting the faith of company ownership, quoted the Bible's Revelation 3:20, in which Jesus lectures a wealthy, complacent congregation:

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."

California can't be Christ-like in dealing with economic competitors. But Jesus was right about the virtues of opening the door. Even when other states take from our table, they help us spread the word.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.



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