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California's Texodus: They came for business and stayed for paradise

Frank Coppersmith, CEO of custom software application company Smarter Reality, relocated to the Austin area from Silicon Valley in 2005.

One by one, millionaires and tech giants—and all their employees—have made Austin home. In fact, in 2020, Austin topped LinkedIn's list of cities that gained the most newcomers.

So, what's all the fuss about Austin from West Coast tech stars?

In short, it's friendly business climate, low taxes and workforce, says Texas Gov. Greg Abbott when he welcomed software giant Oracle to the state. But it's more than that, as Austonia found out by talking with multiple techies who've moved to Austin.

For business reasons or not, the trend of moving to Austin has moved electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla and possibly richest man Elon Musk, DropBox CEO Drew Houston, hardware producer Hewlett Packard Enterprises, and venture capital firm 8VC, among others, in 2020 alone.

Between business and lifestyle, techies have found there's no place like Austin.

Business-friendly culture

Years ago, local techie Frank Coppersmith predicted tech would eventually flee the Bay Area.

Coppersmith was a factory production manager for a San Jose, California technology company focused on the semiconductor manufacturing supply chain. Prompted by the semiconductor sector's move outside of the area, he followed suit, landing in Round Rock in 2005. He now is the CEO of software development company, Smarter Reality, located in the Domain.

"As much as I liked California, it was clear that the direction of the way the industry was moving and the way California was moving, that there would just be more opportunity elsewhere," Coppersmith said.

Austin's relationship with tech can be traced back to the 1950s, when Austin sought to become a technology town in an effort to replace the city's reliance on oil jobs. IBM relocated its Selectric typewriter facility to Austin in 1963, followed by Texas Instruments in 1967 and Motorola in 1974, and the city eventually grew its own giant in 1984, Dell Computers. Like a ripple effect, big names have attracted more names to follow, with some of the biggest arriving in 2020.

Austin Technology Council CEO Amber Gunst says the state's "business-friendly" culture is an attractive draw, not just due to the lack of a state income tax but for how its local and state governments foster the growth and expansion of new and existing companies.

"That's not the case in California, especially in the Bay Area," Gunst said.

According to Gunst, the pandemic has exacerbated the migration of tech companies into Austin, with Bay Area and East Coast employers permitting staff to work anywhere. Gunst's group is a resource for new transplants, helping tech workers transition through the organization's job board and member connections, she said.

"That's the one difficulty that we face right now," she said. "Without being able to physically come together, we do have people who feel a bit isolated when they first move here and try to meet new people."

Living in paradise

California-native Adam Prishtina was prompted to move to Austin by the quality of life Central Texas offers. The Athena Health tech executive was living with his wife and one-year-old son in a 1,200-square-foot apartment in the heart of San Francisco in 2015.

"We said, 'this is crazy,'" Prishtina said. "We should look at an opportunity to be able to live in a house with a front yard and a back yard, to just have room for the family to grow and expand."

His Circle C neighborhood reminds him of Los Gatos, a wealthy Northern California suburb Prishtina couldn't have easily afforded, with his current 3,600-square-foot home he estimated to be priced upwards of $3 million there instead of the $500,000 he paid.

Tech exec Adam Prishtina's young sons enjoy fishing on a sunny day in Austin's Circle C neighborhood. The San Francisco-native moved to the area in 2015, prompted by a better quality of life. (Adam Prishtina)

And the same goes for technical writer Joyce Fee, who thinks of Central Texas life as "paradise."

Fee worked in the technology field for about 25 years when she considered moving, prompted by worsening traffic, skyrocketing cost of living and deterioration of public schools.

After a visit to Austin, she and her partner looked for houses in the area online, seeking privacy, a pool and a five-minute walk to the lake. With some trepidation, they chose the Hill Country.

"We were afraid because we are a gay couple and we thought, 'Oh, man, are we going to go to Texas and get murdered or something like that,'" she said. "I remember those first few months, the neighbors were so warm and welcoming, (asking), 'How y'all doing.'"

For California-transplant Joyce Fee, Central Texas is "paradise," given its lower cost of living and quality of life. (Leslee Bassman)


Both Prishtina and Fee said they've encountered local folks who weren't inclined to roll out the welcome mat for the former West Coast residents. Chastised for raising city property taxes, pricing out longtime residents from their homes, Prishtina suggested West Coast transplants make themselves more approachable.

"If they get to know you, then that's going to reduce the stereotypes native Austinites have about Californians who move here," Prishtina said.

Lakeway resident Malur Narayan, who works for an Austin-based global consulting firm, offers advice to California techies who might encounter differences in the cuisine, culture and politics of their adopted state.

"The key advice (to newcomers) is to adapt because Texas is not California," Narayan said. "Take the best of what you have and offer it here."

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