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AT&T in Big D

Phil Harvey
6/30/2008

1:00 PM -- "AT&T Moves to Dallas, But Is That an Improvement?" asks New York Times blogger Laura M. Holson. Holson hints that it's a mistake, and points to a Kiplinger.com poll as proof. The poll lists Dallas as a worse city to live in than San Antonio, AT&T's current headquarters location.

Sorry, but those "where should I live" polls don't measure the same kinds of things companies and their execs consider when scouting a new home base. Big companies like big company perks, and Dallas is as perky a place as you'll find without having to move to either coast.

Of the 113 Texas companies in the Fortune 500, only three (soon to be two) are in San Antonio and the rest are in Houston or Dallas. There's a reason for that.

The DFW airport, though sprawling and ridiculous, has four Admiral's Clubs. San Antonio, none. Trust me, that matters.

Dallas is known worldwide for its -- what? Shopping? Sure. Neiman Marcus alone has 466,000 gross square feet of retail space in Dallas and Fort Worth.

But Dallas, the city, is kind of new and kind of generic. It's less charming than San Francisco, less soulful than Chicago, and less interesting than New York.

Dallas is actually great for corporations as big as AT&T because they're always trying to be everything to everyone; big companies want to be as inoffensive as possible. They want to be EDS. They want to be JCPenney. You can't do that in San Antonio, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Seattle, or even Austin.

Why does all that matter? The folks making the decisions are human. They're thinking about what works for themselves and their jobs. They're thinking about preserving their income level, while improving the quality of life for their families.

AT&T may indeed want to be closer to its customers and suppliers and whatnot, but AT&T brass also want a few more five-star restaurants where they can take wine-and-dine clients. They want to attend The Colonial and The Byron. They want a skybox at the AAC and the new Cowboy's Stadium.

To measure whether a company's relocation is a good idea, we have to be more realistic than the NYT's Holson. Being realistic doesn't take into account stuff like public school student-to-teacher ratios. Why should it? The average AT&T executive is getting his kids into Hockaday.

— Phil Harvey, Editor, Light Reading

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