Fifteen years ago, Aki Korhonen moved from Finland to California, where the wide-open entrepreneurial climate was suitable for a man with dreams. He founded a successful company in the Bay area, a diagnostic software maker called PC-Doctor.
Soon enough Korhonen was dreaming again -- of a place where everything didn't cost so damn much. So in 2003 he left, taking PC-Doctor 231 miles northeast on I-80 to a new entrepreneurial home in Reno, Nev.
Korhonen started PC-Doctor in 1993, and by 1999 the company's 40 employees occupied a 7,000-square-foot office in Emeryville, looking out onto San Francisco Bay. But Korhonen was already itching to get out. He added up the pluses: Nevada's lack of personal and corporate income tax, its lower utility and workers' comp costs, the ability to make PC-Doctor a high-paying local company by simply maintaining the salaries he'd been paying. "There wasn't one main reason," Korhonen says, "but adding up all the little ones together, Reno was the hands-down obvious choice for us."
At the same time, asking a diverse, multicultural work force to up and move could have gutted PC-Doctor, and Korhonen was determined to retain as many employees as possible. Enter the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, or EDAWN, an aggressive nonprofit business recruitment group. EDAWN surveyed the needs of PC-Doctor's employees and then brought in six community leaders to answer their questions. General issues of real estate, education, recreation, and job opportunities for spouses were raised, and so were more specific concerns, including those of the gay parents who were concerned about tolerance for their child. "It was a tough sell," says Chuck Alvey, president of EDAWN, "but you could hear the group's collective sigh of relief when we explained the influence of the creative class in our school system."
More than half of the PC-Doctor work force moved to Reno. The company has since added 40 new employees, bringing the head count to 64, and workers of all vintages are putting down roots. "Every month we have an employee buying a house," says Korhonen.
Granted, his is the enthusiasm of the transplant -- the average cost of a new three-bedroom house in Reno is still $307,000, almost 15% above the national average. But in San Francisco that house would cost $869,000. "To be honest, I didn't expect the relocation to be this positive," Korhonen says. "People are rushed and stressed in California. Reno has a much better atmosphere."