Fortune 500 haven: California, against the odds

April 22, 2009, 11:49 PM UTC
Fortune

You may have heard that California is, by many measures, America’s sickest state. My recent Fortune cover story, “Can Meg Whitman save California?” lays out the crisis — and my Postcards colleague, Jessica Shambora, did a sidebar, “A State of Pain,” that delivers the very depressing stats to back it up.

Well, I noticed an interesting pattern while I was perusing the new Fortune 500 issue and examining the lists that follow THE 500 list itself. The healthiest lot of America’s 500 largest companies are, it appears, based in California.

What’s the fastest-growing Fortune 500 company in terms of profits these past 5 years? Apple .

And the fastest-growing Fortune 500 company in terms of profits throughout the past 10 years? EBay . Yes, eBay has hit a wall on growth lately–in fact, profits have declined–but over a decade, the performance is extraordinary.

You might guess the fastest grower in revenues during the past five years….yes, Google ! (Ten-year revenue champ is Amazon.com , based in Washington state.)

Consider the other relatively healthy Fortune 500 companies that have their HQs in California: Hewlett-Packard , Walt Disney , Oracle , Cisco , and Chevron , the oil giant that ranks No. 3 in size behind Exxon Mobil and Wal-Mart.

One other California-based company, NetApp happens to be No. 1 on Fortune‘s 2009 list of Best Companies to Work For. NetApp is not on the Fortune 500 yet, but maybe aspires to be. I noticed a NetApp ad at the front of the Fortune 500 issue.

So why all this big-business success inside the sick, sorry so-called Golden State? For one thing, even as California turns business off with terribly high taxes and a pathetic record in public education, the tech sector there has remained strong–a “pillar of stability,”  Rick Tetzeli writes in the intro to the Fortune 500.

“We’re in one of those periods in which the tech world (aside from the astounding Apple) doesn’t wow us but simply delivers numbers that tell the story of an industry whose strength keeps growing,” Tetzeli writes. He quotes venture-capital veteran Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital: “I’ve always felt that if the venture business could add one name to the list every five or six years, that would be a massive achievement. No other sector of the economy does that.”

Long live California…and the Fortune 500!