Tariq Lodhi considers himself to be socially progressive: anti-gun, pro-choice, an advocate for LGBTQ rights. For the last five years, he split his time as a tech engineer between the liberal enclaves of Boston and the Bay Area.
Then, earlier this month, he moved to Texas, where Republican Governor Greg Abbott has been signing a flurry of conservative laws limiting abortion and voter rights, banning mask mandates and handicapping banks’ ability to do business in the state if they don’t support the firearms industry.
By the time Lodhi took the plunge, the decision was easy: The economic and professional opportunities outweighed the cultural warfare coming out of Austin. His new engineering job at Qorvo Inc. is a great fit, and the rapidly growing tech scene north of Dallas is exciting. Back in California, his $2.7 million “shed” in Cupertino was starting to feel cramped. In the Dallas suburbs, he can buy a mansion with a pool in a great school district for less than $1 million.
From outside the state, “it’s easy to buy into the stereotype of what you hear in politics,” Lodhi said in an interview. “I find the local population here very welcoming, very warm, friendly and hospitable.”
Lodhi joins a wave of newcomers that’s helped boost Texas’s population by more than 4 million over the past decade, part of a boom that created one of the fastest growing economies in the U.S. And despite the angst among businesses and economists worried that hard-right politics will make it harder to lure talent, the calculus for anyone considering a move is more nuanced than just focusing on red state versus blue state.
Corporate recruiters, chambers of commerce and many of the companies and people that have helped create the thriving economy suggest it’s going to take more than politics to kill the Texas boom. Low taxes, relatively affordable homes and plentiful jobs are luring new arrivals from across the political spectrum, even those ardently opposed to many of the social policies that Republicans lawmakers have prioritized in recent years.
Tesla Inc. said this month it will move its headquarters to Texas, following similar announcements by Oracle Corp., Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. and real estate giant CBRE Group Inc. Finance firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. have also expanded in the state, helping bolster the size of the Texas economy to $1.9 trillion, the ninth largest in the world if it were its own country.
Austin was the top destination in the U.S. for attracting new workers in the past 12 months, according to data from LinkedIn. The migration primarily came from the San Francisco area, Los Angeles and New York City. Dallas and Houston were also among the 10 U.S. cities for luring talent. Job boards showed almost 800,000 postings for Texas in the third quarter, almost double from a year earlier, according to a report from recruiting firm Robert Half.
Crypto trader Jake Ryan decided he’d had enough of the cost of living, horrible traffic and heart-breaking homelessness of Los Angeles. In 2017, he started hedge fund Tradecraft Capital to invest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency assets, and quickly decided he wanted to find a place with a better quality of life for his family where the government wouldn’t get in the way of doing business. He’d gone to University of Texas in Austin, and always wanted to return to the city.
Ryan says he doesn’t care for the conservative politics of the state — especially when it comes to cultural and social policies such as the recently implemented laws regulating transgender kids’ participation in school sports. But Austin is a blue refuge in a red state, and he can live with it.
“I love it,” he said of Austin. “Things are looking up.”
‘Cuts Both Ways’
Corporate recruiters in Texas say politics rarely comes up when talking to job candidates.
“These issues pop up periodically — whether it’s Covid or abortion — but they don’t last,” said Carl Taylor, who owns an executive search firm in Dallas. “The long-term value of being in Texas far outweighs the blip of what is the hot news item or current issue that is going on.”
Keith Wolf, a managing director at the recruitment firm Murray Resources in Houston, said that for every candidate who might take a pass on Texas because of the politics, others are drawn to the state to find a better match for their values.
“It cuts both ways,” he said. “Some people are attracted to Texas because of the politics. Maybe they come from a more liberal state and they have more conservative views, and we’ve seen that.”
Laura Huffman, president of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, said the main reason businesses are relocating to the region is for access to talent. Rarely does she hear about politics.
“Those are not central in conversations we have,” Huffman said. “The issues that come up consistently are of talent, the environment for growing a business, the quality of life.”
‘A Different Energy’
Employers are attracted to Texas by the lack of income taxes, a predictable regulatory climate and a young, growing and skilled workforce, the governor’s press office said in an email.
Still, socially conservative policies are unpopular with many of the highly educated professionals who are in demand, and that will weigh on long-term economic development, according to Ray Perryman, who runs an economic research firm in Waco, Texas.
“This spate of legislation that restricts human rights and well-being cannot help but limit the state’s fortunes in the future,” he said.
Cydny Black moved to Austin from Washington D.C. last year for a job at a boutique marketing agency that specializes in work for mission-driven non-profits. She had heard Austin was a great city for creative types, full of artists and musicians, though she was concerned she wouldn’t feel completely welcome as a progressive Black woman. That proved to be unfounded.
“People have been so kind in Austin,” she said. “I love the East Coast, but it’s a different energy.”
When the Texas legislature started prioritizing culture-war issues this year, Black was disappointed. But instead of being tempted to flee, she’s putting down roots with the hope of helping to foster change. She’s registered to vote and joined the Austin Area Urban League Young Professionals to meet like-minded folks.
“I don’t agree with policies I’m hearing or reading about, so I’m looking for ways to get involved,” Black said.
— With assistance by Laurel Brubaker Calkins, and Jonathan Levin