More than 600 employes of Georgia-Pacific Corp., the giant forest products company, were invited to move east in a mammoth heaquarters transplant from Portland, Ore., to Peachtree Street this spring. Almost half said no thanks.
Among those who refused was Lindsay Stewart, 35, a lawyer, who flatly turned down the company's generous offer: 8 1/2 percent mortgages for new homes, either buying the old home for its appraised value or giving 12 percent mortgage loans to other purchasers, picking up the tab for the move, two expense-paid trips to Atlanta, including wine and cheese parties, and one week off for house hunting. "It was attractive, but not many people were won over by the package," said Stewart, a native Oregonian. "The day they announced the move, I knew I wasn't going."
He did not want to give up close friends, or take his two young children so far from their grandparents. He enjoyed the outdoors and said he feared Atlanta might be a big city with big city problems. So he stayed home and became a lawyer for Nike shoes.
"It just wasn't worth it," said a secretary who also chose to stay behind. "If you're a skier or a mountain climber, you'd go through withdrawal down South. Besides, we have a lot fewer bugs."
Stewart and others like him are giving major corporations headaches in an era of new immobility. They are jettisoning career climbs as they join a growing cadre of Americans who appear to favor old-fashioned roots to once-trendy rootlessness.
Sociologists who study these dropouts describe them as members of a maturing "we generation" who value family togetherness and a community of friends over chasing after ephemeral success.
America's "overall rate of moving appears to be declining," said Larry Long, the Census Bureau's chief demographic analyst, who cited high mortgage rates, working spouses and life-style factors for the dropoff.
In the 1950s, one of five families changed addresses at least once in the decade. By 1976, the rate had slowed to 18 percent, census studies show.
"It may not seem dramatic, but it is a break from the past, and we believe the 1980 census figures will shore up the trend," he said.
What makes the slight dip significant is that the numbers should be moving up as the Baby Boom generation hits its late 20s and early 30s, the time when Americans tend to be most mobile as they leave home, finish school, take that first job and change careers or companies early on.
As jobs dry up in a prolonged recession, those out of work usually tend to migrate first, Long said. But many are breaking that rule.
Consider Youngstown, Ohio, steelworkers. Of 600 offered jobs elsewhere after a 1978 plant shutdown, only 200 moved. High mortgage rates, working spouses and comfortable life styles are making those with jobs refuse corporate transfers as never before, corporations and relocation consultants say.
"There is an increased reluctance on the part of people to uproot and move on to another job, because they don't want to give up the way they live," said Ed Robie, head of group relocation for Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith.
"Twenty-five years ago, if a company asked a person to move, he'd say, 'Yessir.' Now they tend to weigh their family circumstance and the quality of life," Robie said.
That has led more companies to offer deals employes can't refuse, but are.
Paul Ermouspe, president of Dan Relco, the Denver-based relocation firm brokering the Georgia-Pacific move, shook his head over employes' turning down "one of the biggest packages of incentives we've seen." But Georgia-Pacific is hardly alone, he said: "The relocation acceptance rate is down considerably."
He cited another "very desirable" company that has had to offer management jobs "with a substantial future" to two people just to get one to relocate to Denver. "It's not like you're asking them to make buggy whips," he said.
The Census Bureau's Long said, "One theory making the rounds is that once people get to a place they like, they are reluctant to leave it, regardless of monetary incentives." Such life-style factors "may help explain" refusals to move to Atlanta with generous bosses like Georgia-Pacific, as well as "the migration out of large metropolitan areas to small towns and rural settings."
To coax the wary from Portland to Georgia, Georgia-Pacific inaugurated the 123 Peachtree Room in Portland headquarters, installing a full-time hostess to counsel and help to dismantle Deep South stereotypes. Video tapes and brochures on real estate, recreation, schools, culture and museums were trotted out. Pen pals were arranged for children. Former baseball star Hank Aaron was flown in to speak.
Sara Wichman, the hostess, fielded questions about the South, but she declined in an interview to detail what fears were uppermost in employes' minds.
"Some were worried about snakes, others asked about 'skeeters,' " said Tom Ryan, vice president for public relations, who instructed Wichman to confine her remarks to the decor of the Peachtree Room.
There has been some corporate angst over publicity generated from the headquarters relocation to Georgia, abandoned in the 1950s for the greener but now recession-ridden forests of the Pacific Northwest.
Of 609 employes invited to move cross country into the 59-story headquarters rising on the theater site of the premiere of "Gone With the Wind," only 61 percent, or 367, accepted.
Gerry McIlraith, corporate director of employe relations, said most wanted to know "whether the Southeast would provide them the same kind of satisfaction as people, not just as employes of Georgia-Pacific, as the Pacific Northwest.
"These are people with a great love for the outdoors," he said. "They wanted to know about the availability of beaches, hunting, fishing, skiing, the things they've been accustomed to back home. Some dropped out for life-style reasons, others for personal reasons, but the majority are coming."
Among the eager are Stacey Graham, publicity manager for the building products division, 30 and single. She's eager for a chance to move up fast, likes Atlanta's "cosmopolitan" atmosphere, plans to scout for an old midtown condominium with her 8 percent money and jump into politics as a volunteer in the governor's race. On her first visit she ate grits with butter, salt and pepper and "thought they were great."
Companies wish all employes were as upbeat, and some are hiring psychologists to help employes grapple with moving decisions and to cope with relocation blues.
Such amenities have contributed to the high cost of moving, which has tripled in the last five years. Georgia-Pacific will spend about $50,000 to move each employe, defraying some of the expense through 20 percent real estate commission rebates from three residential brokers who agreed to the deal on homes purchased by Georgia-Pacific employes referred by the company.
Chris Collie, executive vice president of the Employe Relocation Council, a Washington-based research group that represents 850 large firms, said companies projecting fewer transfers this year attribute the slowdown to the high cost of relocation, the recession, high mortgage interest rates and employe reluctance to move.
At Georgia-Pacific, Susan Ferris, public relations director for the chemical division, whose husband is a manufacturers' representative, weighed her career against her husband's opportunities down South.
She won't be coming, after a "soul-searching" decision that is "the best one for both of us in the job market," even though "what Georgia-Pacific offered was extraordinary."
Some didn't relish leaving the National Basketball Association Trailblazers for the Atlanta Hawks. Others said they feared that the social walls of the Old South would be difficult to break down.
"Whether it's perception or reality, there's a formal debutante society in Atlanta," said Lindsay Stewart. "Even if you had a substantial position with the company, you still wouldn't be part of Atlanta 'society.' We'd always be outsiders from the north. Out West, people don't care about those things as much. Life is more casual, more relaxed. No one looks down their nose at you if you don't have connections or blood lineage."
"We made a life-style decision," said his wife, Corinne. "Once we had found a home and friends, we weren't willing to give it up."