Texodus: Chicago Enticing Businesses to Flee Texas' Controversial New Laws

Chicago O'Hare is just a plane ride away.
Chicago O'Hare is just a plane ride away. Photo by Gabriel Tovar on Unsplash
Texas hypes itself as the most business-friendly state in the union, but it may be facing some stiff competition up north.

In Sunday’s Dallas Morning News, readers faced a full-page ad encouraging businesses to swap the Lone Star State for the Windy City. Placed by World Business Chicago, a public-private economic development agency, the ad touts Chicago’s business sector while slamming Texas politics.

“There were always more than 100 reasons why Chicago is a great place for business,” the ad reads. “Now we’d like to highlight a few more.”

Chicago believes in “protecting reproductive rights,” “every person’s right to vote” and “science to fight COVID-19,” according to the ad. Such digs likely allude to some of Texas’ most controversial new policies, including a near-total abortion ban, a restrictive voting law and a governor’s order prohibiting local mask mandates.

“We believe the values of the city you are doing business in matters more than ever before,” Michael Fassnacht, CEO and president of World Business Chicago and chief marketing officer for the city of Chicago, said by email.
This isn’t the first corporate disavowal of Texas' conservative policies.

In April, Texas business leaders asked state lawmakers to refrain from passing anti-LGBGT+ legislation. Earlier that month, Gov. Greg Abbott refused to throw the first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ home opener after MLB pulled a game from Georgia over that state's restrictive voting legislation.

Now, some businesses could fear that supporting controversial social policies will hurt their bottom line, but the state’s GOP doesn’t seem too concerned.

“We encourage individuals and businesses who love rampant gang violence, suppressive tax rates, and Covid mandates to follow the advice of this ad and move out of Texas,” Republican Party of Texas Chair Matt Rinaldi said in an emailed statement.

Of course, many Democrats agree with the Chicago ad’s basic premise. Luke Warford, chief strategy officer for the Texas Democratic Party, said it may be a “publicity stunt,” but the ad is also indicative of the fact that "Texas Republicans are bad for business."

Some Texans could decide to move elsewhere because Republican leadership is attacking much of what makes the state great, he said. People are questioning if it’s safe to raise a family here — on top of whether the state can even keep the power on.

“When the answer to those questions is increasingly no, with the sort of basic things that Texans care about, it will result in people leaving,” Warford said. “And that’s the Republicans’ fault.”

“We are witnessing a time in which social issues are increasingly shaping business decisions and I believe that it is here to stay.” – Professor Jeff Chandler

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Texas’ social policies affect businesses in different ways, said Jeff Chandler, an assistant professor in the G. Brint Ryan College of Business' management department at the University of North Texas. But the new rules could spell bad news for the high-tech companies that relocated here because most of their workforce is “overwhelmingly opposed” to such laws.

Over the past few years, a “tech exodus” has seen Silicon Valley companies move to Texas because of its "lower costs of living, better tax laws and overall fewer regulatory restrictions for companies," Chandler said. Yet as the nation’s partisan divide grows deeper, companies and top executives are weighing in on controversial issues and making decisions based on politics.

Decades back, business leaders kept out of the political realm to avoid alienating their customers and hurting overall sales, he said. So while the World Business Chicago ad is “definitely unusual,” such overtures could become more common.

“We are witnessing a time in which social issues are increasingly shaping business decisions,” Chandler said by email, “and I believe that it is here to stay.”

Texas and Chicago have butted heads over business before.

In 2001, Boeing Co. chose Chicago over Dallas to house its new corporate headquarters. North Texas got some revenge this summer after a battery charger maker fled Chicago for Fort Worth.

Meanwhile, other companies are willingly entering the political ring.

Last week, the CEO of San Francisco-based Salesforce offered to relocate its Texas employees who want to flee because of the new anti-abortion law.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is running for governor there once more, also opened his state’s borders to potential evacuees.

“My message to every Salesforce employee wanting to leave Texas and find a more open and welcoming state: come to Virginia,” McAuliffe said in a tweet. “#1 state for business because we're inclusive to all.”
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Simone Carter, a staff news reporter at the Dallas Observer, graduated from the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism. Her favorite color is red, but she digs Miles Davis' Kind of Blue.
Contact: Simone Carter