Apr 24, 2024 - News

What Oracle's HQ move means for Austin

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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Oracle's headquarters decampment has left us wondering if we should feel bad about ourselves.

Why it matters: Austin's reputation as a shiny rocket ship of prosperity has taken a beating lately.

Driving the news: Oracle chairman Larry Ellison made the surprise announcement Tuesday at a health care industry summit, saying the company would move its headquarters to Nashville to be closer to a major health care epicenter.

  • Ellison celebrated Nashville as a health care leader and a "fabulous place to live."

Catch up quick: Oracle, a multinational software company that has made a big investment in Austin — buying up property and apartment blocks and building sleek office buildings and corporate housing — has not responded to an Axios interview request about its further expansion plans here, including for more office space and a potential hotel.

  • In 2021, Austin voters approved a land-swap deal between the city and Oracle, giving the company more land near its campus on the south side of Lady Bird Lake.

What they're saying: "I wouldn't read too much into it," corporate location adviser Dennis Donovan, of WDG Consulting, tells Axios.

  • "It's partly about publicity," he said, regarding the world headquarters move. "It's intended to generate awareness and support, especially among stakeholders of the supply chain in the direction the company is moving into."

Zoom in: Whatever it means in terms of Oracle's local workforce numbers, Ellison's announcement is a public relations ding on Austin and, by extension, Texas.

  • Gov. Greg Abbott, arguably the state's biggest cheerleader, likes to trumpet the number of blue-chip companies that headquarter in Texas — more than 50 Fortune 500 firms, by last count.
  • When Oracle announced it was moving its headquarters to Austin in 2020, he wrote on Twitter, now X, that "Texas is truly the land of business, jobs, and opportunity. We will continue to attract the very best."

Behind the scenes: The company is getting $175 million in tax breaks from Nashville and $65 million in economic incentives from the state — approved by policymakers in 2021 — to set up its Tennessee campus, per the Tennessean.

Between the lines: Oracle's move is sure to ruffle the feathers of health care and city officials, who have worked to grow Austin's health and tech scene in recent years.

  • The University of Texas and MD Anderson announced a $2.5 billion investment and partnership last fall to build two hospital towers at the former site of the Frank Erwin Center — just blocks away from Dell Seton Medical Center.
  • They will be near the city's proposed "Innovation District," where city and university officials hope to bridge health care and technology in the area anchored by the Dell Medical School, Dell Seton Medical Center and the Central Health Downtown campus.
  • "Nashville's life sciences ecosystem is more mature today, but Austin is quickly gaining ground," Opportunity Austin spokesperson Stacy Schmitt tells Axios. "The opening of the Dell Medical Center was a huge boost for this industry that's already paying dividends. We anticipate the planned UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center will provide another big boost."

Reality check: We're not yet in existential crisis mode — virtually all Texas cities envy Austin's tax base and talent pool, and the Austin area's March unemployment rate hovered at 3.5%, just under the national unemployment rate of 3.8%.

  • Since 2022, more than 100 companies have relocated to Austin, including 33 headquarters, per data provided to Axios by Opportunity Austin.
  • Oracle's Austin footprint will still "grow dramatically," says Donovan, who said Austin has "all the ingredients to support high-tech businesses."

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