Posted tagged ‘Leaving Los Angeles Metropolitan Area’

To Business Owners: Keep a Low Profile When Leaving California

January 25, 2017

Time and again I’ve encouraged smaller companies planning to escape California’s business-hostile environment to avoid publicly discussing their move. What follows is the story of an honest business owner expressing his legitimate concerns about operating in the state – and the unfortunate blowback that resulted.

city-of-los-angeles-sealHouman Salem, who owns a small apparel design and manufacturing business, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that higher labor costs are forcing him to leave California for Nevada. His article contained common sense, non-incendiary views:

“The biggest reason [to relocate] is the minimum wage, which will rise to $15 by 2021 in the county and by 2022 statewide. I write with some hesitancy, because I’m in no way an opponent of higher pay. When you have a company with fewer than 50 employees, you get to know them pretty well and have a genuine concern for them as individuals. But that has to be balanced with concern for keeping your clients, who can always take their business to other countries or states.”

He added, “When the $15 minimum wage is fully phased in, my company would be losing in excess of $200,000 a year (and far more if my workforce grows as anticipated). That may be a drop in the bucket for large corporations, but a small business cannot absorb such losses. I could try to charge more to offset that cost, but my customers – the companies that are looking for someone to produce their clothing line – wouldn’t pay it. The result would be layoffs.”

The reaction on social media was one of rage rather than reflection, according to Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute, writing in the Orange County Register:

“Good riddance,’ said one of the top comments on Facebook. ‘If you can’t pay your employees a living wage, you don’t have my sympathy,’ said another. Other comments accused Salem of being a bad businessman, of keeping too much money for himself and of exploiting his employees. Some readers even left negative reviews of his business online – even though they’d never met him or done business with him.”

Salem, the founder and CEO of ARGYLE Haus of Apparel, said he fears that the outraged reaction will discourage other affected businesses from speaking out and telling their own story.

He is correct. As a consultant who helps companies find business-friendly locations in which to locate, I encourage clients to keep a low profile. Otherwise, they will be hammered without mercy from an uninformed public and sometimes from public officials who know little about what it takes to run a business.

Publicly held corporations must divulge a relocation because that is considered a “material” event.  That is why within just a few years we’ve seen media coverage of many companies moving jobs out of Los Angeles County to out-of-state locations. Examples: Toyota, Hilton Hotels, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Occidental Petroleum, Northrop Grumman and Walt Disney Co.

Salem also said he is “contacted on an almost daily basis by other L.A.-based companies in my industry who are scared about the future. They are looking to me for leadership, and want to talk about my decision to leave the state.”

He added that “When politicians talk about an ‘economy working for everyone’ – let me tell you, it’s not working for the small business owner.”

Salem chafed at critics who suggested he’s taking advantage of his employees. He has always paid above minimum wage even though doing so causes increases in payroll taxes and workers compensation.

Saltsman wrote: “Despite the challenges of doing business in California, Salem (unlike some of his competitors) is still committed to making his products domestically. ‘I’m an American – I want this country to do well, to succeed….’ He told me he’s not opposed to raising wages – but that the entire burden can’t rest on small business owners. ‘I need the government to meet me halfway. In California, unfortunately, that kind of compromise doesn’t exist.’”

Other businesses have cited the minimum wage increase while loading moving vans, namely: California Composites of Santa Fe Springs when shifting work to Texas (the company owner said if he were to stay “it would probably make me a nonprofit within a couple years or so”); Competitive Edge Research & Communications that relocated from San Diego to Texas; and Woof & Poof of Chico, which makes handcrafted pillows and stuffed figures, when transferring work to North Carolina.

I noticed something about this event that adds insult to injury. Salem’s website states, “Based in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, ARGYLE Haus is a founding member (emphasis added) of the L.A. Mayor’s Fashion Council, an organization dedicated to building and reinforcing the vibrant fashion and apparel industry in the greater Los Angeles area.”

A founding member? Have public officials shown any gratitude? Well, not that I know of from politicians like Gov. Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti or any member of city council. I wonder if any of them think they could run ARGYLE Haus better than Mr. Salem has.

It’s hardly surprising that Salem concluded, “We need more stable, blue-collar jobs in places like the San Fernando Valley – the kind I thought I was helping create. California, however, has put up a giant ‘Go Away’ sign.’”

Mr. Saltsman’s Orange County Register column is here: “Los Angeles’ ungracious response to minimum wage consequences.”

Mr. Salem’s Los Angeles Times opinion column is here: “Leaving for Las Vegas: California’s minimum wage law leaves businesses no choice.”

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One focus of this blog has been to address California’s difficult business environment, as described in the study, California Business Departures: An Eight-Year Review 2008-2015, (PDF) updated Jan. 14, 2016.

Joseph Vranich is known as The Business Relocation Coach while the formal name of his business is Spectrum Location Solutions. Joe helps companies find great locations in which to grow. Also, Joe has been a Keynote Speaker for more than 20 years – see A Speaker Throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.

A July 4th Message About How ‘Freedom’ Is Under Siege for California Businesses

July 3, 2016

Once in awhile I come across a business owner’s explanation of just how tough it is to run a commercial enterprise in California. I found one that amounts to “can’t-put-it-down reading.”

Ventura County RecreationThe writer, Warren Meyer, described conditions relating to the regulatory requirements, such as getting county permits, high unemployment insurance costs, concern over rising minimum wages, and the fact that all employee lawsuits against this multi-state company were in California.

I’ll let his words speak for themselves:

Normally, the closure of a business operation or division is not grounds for a celebration, but in this case I am going to make an exception. At midnight on December 31, I not only drank a toast to the new year, but also to finally getting all my business operations out of Ventura County, California.

Never have I operated in a more difficult environment. Ventura County combines a difficult government environment with a difficult employee base with a difficult customer base.

It took years in Ventura County to make even the simplest modifications to the campground we ran. For example, it took 7 separate permits from the County (each requiring a substantial payment) just to remove a wooden deck that the County inspector had condemned. In order to allow us to temporarily park a small concession trailer in the parking lot, we had to (among other steps) take a soil sample of the dirt under the asphalt of the parking lot. It took 3 years to permit a simple 500 gallon fuel tank with [the California Air Resources Board] and the County equivalent. The entire campground desperately needed a major renovation but the smallest change would have triggered millions of dollars of new facility requirements from the County that we simply could not afford.

In most states we pay a percent or two of wages for unemployment insurance. In California we pay almost 7%. Our summer seasonal employees often take the winter off, working only in the summer, but claim unemployment insurance anyway. They are supposed to be looking for work, but they seldom are and California refuses to police the matter. Several couples spend the whole winter in Mexico, collecting unemployment all the while. So I have to pay a fortune to support these folks’ winter vacations.

California is raising minimum wages over the next 2 years by $2. [Note: The actual amount was higher.] Many of our prices are frozen by our landlord based on past agreements they have entered into, so we had no way to offset these extra costs. At some point, Obamacare will stop waiving its employer mandate and we will owe $2,000-$3,000 extra additional for each employee. There was simply no way to support these costs without expanding to increase our size, which is impossible due to County regulations.

A local attorney held regular evening meetings with my employees to brainstorm new ways they could sue our company under arcane California law. For example, we went through three iterations of rules and procedures trying to comply with California break law and changing “safe” harbors supposedly provided by California court decisions. We only successfully stopped the suits by implementing a fingerprint timekeeping system and making it an automatic termination offense to work through lunch. This operation has about 25 employees vs. 400 for the rest of the company. 100% of our lawsuits from employees over our entire 10-year history came from this one site. At first we thought it was a manager issue, so we kept sending in our best managers from around the country to run the place, but the suits just continued.

Ask anyone in the recreation business where their most difficult customers are, and they likely will name the Los Angeles area. It is impossible to generalize of course, because there are great customers from any location, but LA seems to have more than its fair share of difficult, unruly, entitled customers. LA residents are, for example, by far the worst litterers in the country, at least from our experience. Draw a map of California with concentric circles around LA and the further out one gets, the lower the litter clean-up costs we have. But what really killed it for me in Ventura County was the crazy irresponsible drinking and behavior. Ventura County is the only location out of nearly 200 in the country where we had to hire full-time law enforcement help to provide security. At most locations, we would get 1 arrest every month or two (at most). In Ventura we could get 5-10 arrests a day. In the end, I found myself running a location where I would never take my own family.

And so I got out. Hallelujah.

PS – People frequently talk about taxes in California being what makes the state “anti-business.” That may be, but I guess I never made enough money to have the taxes really bite. But taxes are only a small part of the equation.

Update: Wow, reading this again, I left out so much! An employee once sued us at this location for harassment and intimidation by her manager – when the manager was her sister! It cost me over $20,000 in legal expenses to get the case dismissed. I had an older couple file a state complaint for age discrimination when they were terminated – despite the fact that our entire business model is to hire retired people and the vast majority of our employees are 70 and older. And how could I have forgotten the process of getting a liquor license? I suppose I left it out because while tedious (my wife and I had to fly to California to get fingerprinted, for example), it is not really worse than in other places – liquor license processes are universally bad …. We gave the license up pretty quickly, when we saw how crazy and irresponsible much of the customer base was. Trying to make the place safer and more family friendly, we banned alcohol from the lake area, and faced a series of lawsuit threats over that.

Source: A Milestone to Celebrate: I Have Closed All My Businesses in Ventura County, California

Note: It’s irrelevant that this piece was written more than two years ago because since then the business environment in California has gotten worse.

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One focus of this blog has been to address California’s difficult business environment, as addressed in the new study, California Business Departures: An Eight-Year Review 2008-2015, (PDF) updated Jan. 14, 2016.

Joseph Vranich is known as The Business Relocation Coach while the formal name of his business is Spectrum Location Solutions. Joe helps companies find great locations in which to grow. Also, Joe has been a Keynote Speaker for more than 20 years – see A Speaker Throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia.