It’s no secret that some states are considered to be friendlier business environments than others. But are the advantages really worth uprooting your business’s headquarters and moving to take advantage of some of the tax, work force or cultural benefits?
Smart Business talked with William C. Lucia, CEO and president of HMS Holdings Corp., a company that provides coordination of benefits and program integrity services for health care payors, about his company’s decision to relocate.
HMS announced in July of last year that it was moving its corporate headquarters from New York City to Irving, Texas. What was the primary factor that drove your decision to relocate?
HMS has more than doubled its revenue since 2007 and we required a location that could support this rapid growth. In considering a move of our HMS, Inc. corporate headquarters, we had to determine both short- and long-term cost savings as well as other aspects related to the business climate in a chosen destination. HMS looked at all the different costs involved in running our business over a long period of time and we also factored in things like cost of living, all the different kinds of state and local credits, and money available for training and for building infrastructure. In that respect, and in many other areas of consideration, North Texas and Irving in particular stood apart.
What other factors were weighed in addition to the cost of doing business for HMS as you explored whether to relocate?
We looked at a number of factors that were critical to us. Chief among them were location and accessibility, a pro-business city, work force availability and quality of life. For our company, a location centrally located to serve our national client base with ease of travel from an outstanding international airport was very important. Of course, a company is only as good as its employees and with our rapid growth, we absolutely had to have access to a large skilled labor pool and a very high quality of life that would help our company recruit and retain a strong work force. We were very fortunate to find a pro-business city as well, with a Chamber of Commerce that has been a great resource in guiding us and helping us navigate everything from site selection to securing valuable incentives to the permit process.
Can you talk a little more about what makes a city pro-business?
Absolutely. It was important to us to have our headquarters in a pro-business city that is already home to a number of Fortune 500 global headquarters. We don’t underestimate the importance of a business-focused culture in a city that has the social maturity to assimilate corporate executives into the mainstream of the community and its social circles with opportunities to serve as advocates for economic development. From an infrastructure standpoint, Irving has among the lowest municipal property tax rates in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. And for qualifying new, relocating and expanding companies, the City of Irving offers incentives that can reduce property taxes by 30 percent or more for up to 10 years. To further support qualifying businesses, the city often takes a creative approach to structuring abatements. Incentive agreements can even be structured to allow a higher percentage of benefits early in the abatement period to offset moving and start-up costs. Those are the kinds of things that set Irving apart as being pro-business.
Was HMS able to take advantage of some incentives?
Yes, the state is investing $1.6 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund in our company to help us create 350 new jobs and generate an estimated $17.6 million in capital investment. To have that kind of support from the state as well as the City of Irving was obviously a huge factor in our decision. And the State of Texas is pro-business, exhibited by the significant job growth compared to other states, and is a great location to run a rapidly growing business.
How did your employees respond to the announcement?
We already had a major center in Irving with 500 employees so we had been moving in this direction for a while. It didn’t come as a shock to anyone, but our employees responded with all the questions you might expect: Where will I live? Where will my kids go to school? What can I do for fun when I’m not working? What kind of cultural opportunities are there? Being in Irving, in the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth, we have many great education and housing options as well as entertainment and cultural activities. So our move was overwhelmingly viewed as a positive development by our employees.
What advice would you give a company considering relocating?
My advice is to follow a structured process where you closely examine your company’s overall strategy and the needs of the headquarters operation. List the issues that exist at the current city and identify the opportunities and benefits from being in an ideal location. If at the end of the day it makes sense, don’t be afraid to go for it! HMS is one of many companies that have engaged in a headquarters relocation that has infused new energy, improved market positioning and driven growth and revenue. It’s a challenging initiative, but with a well-structured process, an effective plan and a committed team, the payout can be extremely high.
William C. Lucia is CEO and president of HMS Holdings Corp., which provides coordination of benefits and program integrity services for health care payors. He has more than 20 years of experience in health care reimbursement, information systems and large-scale insurance administration.