Blaming Airlines, AT&T Takes Flight

Yesterday, while I was returning from San Francisco to Austin, AT&T was letting folks know that it plans to move its headquarters from San Antonio to Dallas. A big part of the blame was laid on the lack of direct flights to other big cities, a fact I could appreciate after my indirect, 6-hour journey home. Ironically, as technology (powered in no small part by AT&T ) allows us to innovate anywhere, the financial woes of the airline industry that lead to fewer routes make it much more productive for those who travel to live in large cities.

Sure the relocation affects only 700 out of about 6,000 jobs, and from a technology perspective, the loss of the executive and upper management jobs won’t change much for San Antonio. Few tech startups (sorry Rackable Rackspace) are located in the city. The company’s former SBC Labs (now part of AT&T Labs) is in Austin where its usability center and rows and rows of test equipment live. It also had a large presence in Dallas where many of its equipment vendors have their U.S. headquarters and offices.

Once Ed Whitacre, who relocated the company to San Antonio from St. Louis in 1992, retired, it was only a matter of time before San Antonio lost its corporate jewel. Perhaps the lack of good flights is a scapegoat to help Randall Stephenson avoid insulting San Antonio’s technology credentials. Although after a decade and a half in the city, the fact that few technology related startups grew up around one of the top 25 companies in the U.S., is a damning testament to the city and the company itself. But after a week of travel, I’m fine blaming the airlines too.