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Everybody’s (Still) Talkin': Toyota’s Move and Its Impact on North Texas

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Photo by Jeanne Prejean
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. Photo by Jeanne Prejean

The Dallas Regional Chamber held a reception at its downtown offices yesterday for Dale Petroskey, its new president and CEO. But the thing everyone was talking about was Toyota’s announcement on Monday that it would move its national headquarters from Torrance, California, to a 70-acre “campus” in Plano. The chamber was instrumental in the coup for North Texas, which was said to be the result of a super-secret, months-long effort in which even the likes of billionaire Ray Hunt, who helped out, didn’t know the company’s identity. Indeed, one chamber official said, the news got out last Friday only after the son of one Toyota executive in California tweeted out something like, “Hell no, I’m not moving to Texas.”

Even yesterday, chamber principals said they couldn’t say much about the stealth effort, because they still were operating under a nondisclosure agreement. “Confidentiality was critical to the company,” said Sarah Carabias-Rush, a chamber vice president. “Their first and foremost concern was to protect the interests of the employees.” But why couldn’t she talk now, since the deal’s already been done? “It’s their message,” Carabias-Rush said. “We don’t want to take their message.” Okay. But, could she say whether the city of Dallas was seriously considered, given Toyota’s apparent preference for a sprawling, multi-acre campus? “There were multiple cities in the area that the company was looking at,” she replied. “I’m not at liberty to discuss which. There was more than one.”

While the relocation means up to 4,000 jobs may be headed to Plano, it’s unclear just how many Californians will be transferring, and how many positions might be available for North Texans to fill. When Nissan made a similar move from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2006, Nissan said about 40 percent of its employees relocated. But others said 25 percent was more like it. At yesterday’s chamber reception, one PR pro said she’s already been approached by a local Toyota dealer to make a video to persuade the company’s wary employees in California that Texas is a great place to live.

Halfway across the room, meantime, one prominent businessman was steaming over Mayor Mike Rawlings’ assertion on a radio program that Dallas lost Toyota to Plano because of the poor quality of Dallas’ public schools. The comment was stupid, the businessman said, because it will be used as ammunition against Dallas by competing cities in future recruitment campaigns.

Asked about this at a charter-schools fundraiser later in the day, Rawlings was mostly unrepentant. “CEOs are smart, and they know how to get data. And, there’s a lot of reasons” for relocation decisions, Rawlings said. “But I will tell you, one factor every company I talk to is, they want to be next to their workforce. … Some of them power through it, like AT&T. Tonight I learned that Bank of America, 90 percent of their employees drive in from Collin County. When I was running Pizza Hut, when I left, they moved to Frisco, because they wanted to be next to their employees.

“But I met with [Toyota], they were very serious about Dallas, they were very serious about Plano, and I said, ‘It doesn’t matter, either one’s great. Okay? Just come to the Dallas area!’ ” Rawlings said. “This is a win for us, okay? … It’s a lot of factors, but being close to their workforce is extremely important.”

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