Friday, June 27, 2008

AT&T World Headquarters Moving to Downtown Dallas

AT&T Inc., the nation's largest telecommunications company, said Friday it is moving its corporate headquarters to Dallas from San Antonio for easier access to customers and operations around the world.

AT&T said the move would begin within weeks and is expected to be complete around the end of the year.

The move will put AT&T closer to many of its technology suppliers and help cement the Dallas area as a telecom hub. Nokia Corp., Nortel Networks Corp., Ericsson and others have major operations here.

Chairman and Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said San Antonio -- where AT&T has been based since moving from St. Louis in 1992 -- "is a great city with much to offer and it's been good for AT&T." But he suggested it's time to move.

"We're a growing global company with customers and operations around the world," Stephenson said in a statement. "Being headquartered in Dallas will benefit our long-term growth prospects and human resources needs, and our ability to operate more efficiently, better serve customers and expand the business in the future."

The Dallas area has two airports and is home to American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, providing a more extensive network of flights across the country and throughout the world than is available from San Antonio.

AT&T, with annual sales of $118.9 billion and about 300,000 employees, expects 700 of its nearly 6,000 San Antonio-based jobs to move to offices in downtown Dallas.

Dallas civic leaders were predictably giddy.

"This is more than just bragging rights," said Robert A. Chereck, chairman of the Greater Dallas Chamber and a Wells Fargo & Co. executive. "When you get a big corporation moving in, it means more jobs, and these are higher-paying jobs that help your tax base."

"This helps confirm our status as a global telecom hub," said Bill Sproull, president and CEO of the Metroplex Technology Business Council.

Sproull said AT&T must have been persuaded by the presence of so many other telecoms in the so-called Telecom Corridor just north of Dallas, which employs about 45,000 people.

"The clustering effect is a powerful force in any industry," he said. "It's why there's a Silicon Valley. It's why there's a Route 128 in Boston."

San Antonio officials took solace that the company plans to keep many jobs in their city, which has more charm and tourist attractions, like the River Walk and the Alamo, but less money than Dallas.

"They outgrew San Antonio," mused Nelson Wolff, the county judge, or top administrator, of Bexar County, where the city is located. "We celebrated when they first came here -- I was mayor. They were a small company, relatively speaking."

Wolff said local officials did their best to keep AT&T by increasing direct flights to San Antonio. He said he and Mayor Phil Hardberger met with Stephenson earlier this week and the CEO gave no indication he was planning to bolt.

"It hurts," Wolff said. "But we're going to be OK."

The company said it would keep its mobile phone headquarters in Atlanta, its business-services group and A&TT Labs in New Jersey, and its phone-directory operations in St. Louis.

AT&T was previously known as Southwestern Bell, one of the regional companies formed by the 1984 court-ordered breakup of the Bell monopoly. It served as a local phone company for a five-state region.

In the past two decades under former CEO Edward Whitacre, the company changed its name to SBC Communications and grew to a 22-state operator with long-distance, wireless and Internet service.

It bought other Baby Bells, including Pacific Bell in California, SNET in New England, and Ameritech in the Midwest. AT&T got into mobile-phone service by forming a joint venture with BellSouth, and later bought out its partner. First called Cingular Wireless and now AT&T Mobility, it's the largest U.S. wireless operator.

Whitacre's crowning achievement came in 2005 with the $16 billion purchase of AT&T Corp. SBC took over the iconic AT&T name.