Small-Business Owners in California Seek Greener Pastures Amid High Taxes and Crime

Small-Business Owners in California Seek Greener Pastures Amid High Taxes and Crime
Kelly Bradford, vice president of sales for Armitage Winery in Scotts Valley, Calif. (Courtesy of Kelly Bradford)
Mary Prenon

For the past 10 years, Armitage Winery has been producing and selling fine wines directly from its Heart of the Mountain Vineyard, perched 1,500 feet above Monterey Bay in Scotts Valley, California. The family-owned business has taken pride in operating its vineyard, tasting room, and wine club from this exclusive location in the heart of the Santa Cruz mountains.

But every year, the escalating costs of taxes, insurance, and labor, coupled with what many are calling the government’s “anti-business” attitude, are forcing numerous business to consider moving out of state or at least planning to move.

Brandon Armitage, President and Winemaker in the vineyards at Armitage Winery, Scotts Valley, Calif.. (Courtesy of Kelly Bradford)
Brandon Armitage, President and Winemaker in the vineyards at Armitage Winery, Scotts Valley, Calif.. (Courtesy of Kelly Bradford)

Armitage Winery is just one of 67 percent of California businesses surveyed that report they are unhappy doing business in the Golden State. Of that 67 percent, 30 percent indicate that are currently considering a move, 27 percent say they want to move but can’t afford it, and 10 percent are actively planning a move.

The recent survey, conducted by PublicSquare and RedBalloon, included 80,000 small-business owners nationwide. Overall, the survey found that a mere 13 percent of small-business owners in California are actually happy with their location—nearly 40 percent lower than the national average.

High taxes were listed as the number-one reason why California businesses want to relocate, with 86.4 percent responding that taxes are just cutting too much into their profits. Almost 85 percent named anti-business government policies as another major reason to leave. On the national level, that compares to 64.5 percent of employers listing high taxes and 59.4 percent, anti-business government as their biggest complaints

Kelly Bradford, vice president of sales for Armitage Winery, told The Epoch Times they’re considering a move to Oregon, where land, taxes, and labor will be less expensive. “We love it here, but we just can’t afford it,” she admitted. “We don’t own the property, and it’s become harder and harder to meet the costs of growing grapes, farming, and producing wine. Taxes and insurance are higher, and so is the cost of labor and contractors.”

Set on the estate where renowned director Afred Hitchcock once owned a summer estate, the Armitage Winery opened up to the public just eight months ago, to help with revenue streams. Previously, it had produced its line of pinot noirs and chardonnays for wine club customers only. “However, we had started to see more abandoned online shopping carts due to the added high cost of taxes and fees,” Ms. Bradford said.

With a price range of $39–75 per bottle, the winery caters to middle and upper middle-class consumers. “Some people have told us our price point is too low, but we really want to keep it where it is,” explained Ms. Bradford. “We’ve already had a lot of drop-offs from our wine club members, and most of them have cited financial reasons why they can’t continue to purchase.”

The high cost of doing business, escalating living and costs the local political climate, are forcing the family to give some serious thought to relocating. In addition to Oregon, they’re also looking into options in Idaho and Arizona.

Andrew Crapuchettes, RedBalloon CEO, is a former San Francisco Bay area resident who now calls Idaho home. He told The Epoch Times that California’s government is just not paying attention to small business. “I think what you’re seeing there is an early indicator of what’s going to happen to the economy in general,” he explained. “If there’s a groundswell and businesses start leaving California en masse, it would be devastating to the whole state.”

RedBalloon, self-described as “America’s #1 woke-free job board and talent connector,” provides job posting and recruiting services across the United States and Canada. Mr. Crapuchettes describes the current situation in California like the Eagles band’s famous hit single, “Hotel California.”  “Nearly a third of small businesses in California feel like they’re stuck, where they can check out anytime they like, but they can never leave,” he quoted a passage from the song.

Nationwide, nearly half of all small-business owners (47.7 percent) reported they are happy with their current location and have no plans to move. In Florida, 75 percent surveyed indicated they are very happy in the Sunshine State.

Mr. Crapuchettes contends local public schools also play a huge role in where business owners plan to locate. “In Florida, business owners seem to be super happy, but in California, more than 75 percent of owners named ‘woke public schools’ as another reason for wanting to leave,” he said. “People don’t realize the impact schools have on local businesses. This is their future workforce.”

Close to 60 percent of California business owners also responded that crime has increased significantly over the past 12 months. Comparing red and blue states, the survey indicated 76 percent of those doing business in red states are content, while just a little more than 25 percent of business owners in blue states reported they were happy. “The stark contrasts leave little doubt where small businesses thrive,” added Mr. Crapuchettes.

Cherie and Curtis Falwell, owners of Bulletproof Pet Products in Brentwood, Calif. (Courtesy of Cherie Falwell)
Cherie and Curtis Falwell, owners of Bulletproof Pet Products in Brentwood, Calif. (Courtesy of Cherie Falwell)

Cherie Falwell and her husband Curtis have been operating their business, Bulletproof Pet Products, from their Brentwood, California, location for the past 10 years. The business sells safe chew toys for dogs to over 250 stores in the United States, as well as directly to consumers online.

Bulletproof Pets safe toys for dogs. (Courtesy of Cherie Falwell)
Bulletproof Pets safe toys for dogs. (Courtesy of Cherie Falwell)

After growing up and living in the area for her entire life, Ms. Falwell is considering moving their home and business to Nevada, where there is currently no state tax. “Everything is so expensive here, and the taxes are very hard for a small business to handle,” she told The Epoch Times. “By the time we pay our bills, employees, and taxes, there’s just not that much money left over.”

The couple also worries about the decline in the quality of life over the years. “Brentwood has always been considered a nice area, but now people are being robbed at gunpoint on the streets, there’s constant shoplifting in local stores, and the homeless have overrun the city,” she said. “The only thing nice about living here now is the weather. I thought I’d never want to leave California, but I just don’t feel safe here anymore.”

Since they can run the business from anywhere, Ms. Falwell said the only thing they’ll need is an area with a good internet connection and a local post office. “It’s really hard watching a place change so much,” she added.

Scott Fuller, owner of, is yet another example of a California business owner who left for greener pastures. Mr. Fuller and his family moved to Gilbert, Arizona, several years ago, and his consulting firm helps other San Francisco Bay area residents to find more affordable housing and a better quality of life in other states.

In addition to California’s high cost of doing business and housing, Mr. Fuller noted that quality of life issues like crime and homelessness are continuing to coax people to relocate. “California is one of the leaders in being a sanctuary state for illegal immigration, and people are now factoring in their tax increases that will be needed to pay for all of the extra social services,” he told The Epoch Times in an earlier interview.

Mary T. Prenon covers real estate and business. She has been a writer and reporter for over 25 years with various print and broadcast media in New York.