Over the last decade, there has been a gradual increase in the number of residents and businesses emigrating to tax-advantaged states such as Florida, Arizona, Texas, and Nevada, from tax-burdened markets including New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and California. The Covid-19 health crisis has accelerated the trend, as businesses embrace remote work and individuals opt to live in places with a lower cost of living.
According to a recent report, approximately 1,000 people are moving to Florida every day—lured by the promise of cost savings, plentiful business and career opportunities, and an enhanced quality of life. Many of these migrants are coming from the New York metropolitan area. U.S. Postal Service records indicate that more New Yorkers have relocated to Florida than any other state, with more than 13,000 requests for address changes to South Florida filed in the past eight months. Executives and employees in the finance, real estate, and technology sectors are among the most likely to relocate, since they tend to be high-wage earners who are upwardly mobile.
Recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk relocated to Texas, which is one of seven states without a state-issued income or estate tax. Blackstone made national news when it announced plans to open a new Miami office focused on technology with at least 215 employees, choosing Florida over expanding its New York presence. Goldman Sachs is also reported to be plotting a move to South Florida, potentially following in the footsteps of other high-profile financial firms including Icahn Enterprises, Universa Investments, Starwood Capital, and Appaloosa Management.
With the incoming presidential administration pledging to raise taxes on the wealthy and financially strapped states pondering additional taxation, domestic migration patterns are showing no signs of slowing down and the wealth migration trend should be even more pronounced in 2021.
While the promise of lower taxes and improved quality of life are enticing, there are several variables that individuals and businesses must consider when contemplating a relocation or expansion. The following is an overview of the factors that should be weighed prior to making a move.
Affordability: While much of the relocation talk revolves around tax benefits, any relocation or expansion must be undertaken within the context of a full cost-benefit analysis. One of the main drivers of business migration to South Florida is because of state and local tax advantages AND the availability of relatively affordable commercial space—a double win that often creates net savings.
Local Talent Pool: The cities of tax-advantaged states have dramatically ramped up the availability of quality talent across different sectors, but you still have to do your homework to see if it’s the right talent for your business. Most companies simply do not have the resources to relocate most of their employees, which is why it is important to know that local hires will pass muster. Also, many local authorities are choosing to develop their metropolitan areas in ways that accommodate specific industries. With the right workers and local governments rolling out the red carpet, you’ll hit the relocation sweet spot.
Connectivity: While all major metropolitan areas in tax-advantaged states have international airports, they don’t have the same connections. This will be important for companies that have international operations. A manufacturer, retailer, or service provider with a large book of business in Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, will make much better use of Miami International Airport than a company focused on business expansion in East Asia. Unique to South Florida, the expansion of the commuter Brightline high-speed passenger rail connecting Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties has become a game changer that has exponentially increased the size of the employee talent pool. Assessing logistics at all levels—local, national and international- will be key.
Space Considerations: If you’re a small to medium-sized company looking for premium corporate office space for your white collar employees, there may not be much of a difference between Houston or Miami. But the more your business needs diverge from run-of-the-mill commercial space, the more you will need to undertake an in-depth survey of what a given metropolitan area has to offer your company. This will involve advice from an experienced real estate attorney who specializes in land use and zoning issues for your target area. He or she will be able to counsel you on whether your move is reasonably straightforward, challenging but doable, or pie-in-the-sky.
Workplace Culture: While it may seem like an afterthought, local culture is important. While your business may be global, your day-to-day, face-to-face is local. Setting up shop in a place where the values, culture and idiosyncrasies don’t jibe well with company leadership is never advisable, so make sure to spend a good amount of time wherever you’re thinking of moving. Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Texas are all American but still worlds apart.
A number of financial considerations come into play once a company or individual has performed due diligence, taking into account the five factors above, and is ready to pull the trigger on a relocation. Reaping tax benefits does not happen overnight. Remember that moving between different states means adhering to different tax rates and rules.
In addition to comparing income taxes, consider capital gains taxes, corporate taxes, property taxes, and sales taxes. For family offices or sole proprietors, a state’s estate tax may carry significant implications Do the financial incentives offered by certain states and local authorities for specific types of businesses outweigh the lower tax rates of other states?
You can see where I’m going with all of this. Different types of businesses will view myriad tax structures differently, so make sure you consult with your legal and tax professionals before making an expensive move. In addition to advising you on the pros and cons of a relocation, they’ll also counsel you on how to avoid the dreaded “residency audit” for individuals dividing their time between different states. Auditors will look at everything from voter registration records and driver’s licenses, to active bank accounts and employment history among other factors to show that you owe their states taxes. Taking all of the above into account will help ensure that you make the right decision for you and your company—move or no move.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Anthony De Yurre is a partner in Bilzin Sumberg’s Land Development & Government Relations Group. His practice focuses on the representation of real estate developers and investors in complex land use and zoning matters with a focus on transit oriented development, large scale mixed-use development, and public private partnerships.