Financial companies are leaving New York for red states

Joel Kotkin:
The recently announced departure of New York City-based Alliance Bernsteinfor Nashville, taking more than 1,000 jobs with it, suggests a potential loosening of New York’s iron grip on the financial-services industry. Yet the move reflects a longer evolution that has seen financial firms leave not only New York but also other traditional centers—what one historian calls the “Yankee Empire”—that for two centuries dominated banking, insurance, and investment capital.

This process is driven, in large part, by cost considerations. The cost of living in Nashville is just 58 percent that of New York, an important differential for younger workers looking to buy houses and start families, and one likely to widen with the new federal limits on state and local tax deductions. In addition, pension-driven fiscal realities may force states like New York, Illinois, and California to keep raising revenues.

Other forces are at work, too, notably demographic shifts to Sunbelt states and the growing influence of technology companies on finance. Jobs in industries like information technology and business and professional services are fleeing the old centers outside of New York, which is holding its own better than the rest. But the stagnation, and even decline, of financial-services jobs, at a time of high profits, represents a serious threat to regions losing out on job creation in these other sectors as well.

Alliance-Bernstein notwithstanding, New York is not close to losing its hegemony over finance. With 472,000 employees in that industry, the city dwarfs all its competitors, including runner-up Chicago, where finance employs 264,000. Finance jobs in New York, according to Pepperdine University’s Michael Shires, have grown at a respectable 11 percent since 2009, though the pace has slowed more recently, last year increasing by only 1.6 percent. New York might be losing ground and market share, but the industry as a whole is not shrinking, at least for now. And New York’s traditional rivals in this sector—Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles—have been struggling. Since 2009, Chicago’s financial job growth has been barely 5 percent, less than half of New York’s. Los Angeles, home to the fourth-largest agglomeration of finance workers, also did poorly, while Boston did even worse, actually losing finance jobs last year.

The big winners—as Alliance-Bernstein’s move demonstrated—have been overwhelmingly in the low-cost, low-density Sunbelt. With reasonable taxes, more affordable home prices, and expanding residential populations, these areas are becoming financial-industry giants, even if they lack large, locally based companies. Among the global financial firms relocating operations to these less costly locales are UBS, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs.

The next potential financial superstar is the Dallas area, now boasting the country’s third-largest concentration of financial workers and likely to supplant Chicago from second place in the near future. Last year, the Dallas Morning News suggested that “Y’all Street” may soon replace Wall Street as the U.S. financial capital. That’s a bit of a stretch, but between 2009 and 2017, Dallas did expand financial employment by 30 percent—three times New York’s rate and more than six times that of Chicago or Los Angeles. With rapid population growth, low taxes, moderate housing prices, and a premier strategic location between the coasts, Dallas has much going for it. Last year, Texas overtook New York for the most banking and insurance jobs among the states; in 2005, New York had led by almost 100,000 jobs.

Dallas is not alone. Since 2009, Nashville, San Antonio, and Phoenix—winner of new jobs from employers like USAA, State Farm, and Charles Schwab—have experienced financial-services growth rates greater than 30 percent. Charleston, Charlotte, Durham-Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Greenville have all seen their financial workforces expand by more than 20 percent. Florida, which shares a time zone and many cultural ties with New York, is a financial-services hotbed, with Jacksonville, Miami, Tampa, and Orlando all experiencing growth rates two times that of Gotham.
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What those who make the move will find is that not only are their direct cost much lower, but the costs of legal and accounting services are also lower.  The people are just as talented, but their own costs also are more competitive. 

I was an attorney in a regional investment banking firm in Texas that did business with the firms in New York and Chicago and occasionally with the West Coast firms.  The firm hired several New York expats and all of them pointed out that the move to Houston raised their standard of living.  One told me, that you would not live in the places in New York that cost the equivalent of a mortgage payment in the Houston area.

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