The vast majority of San Diego businesses that relocate never leave California – or even the county.

About 93 percent of San Diego-area companies’ moves from 1989 to 2011 were to another California city and more than 85 percent of those relocations were simply elsewhere in the San Diego region, according to a Voice of San Diego analysis of a database tracking hundreds of thousands of business moves in and out of California.

The state as a whole had a similar experience during that period. Only 6 percent of California company moves during that 22-year period were to another state.

These numbers don’t match the drumbeat of news stories about business moves and out-of-state pitches that aim to lure California companies.

More than 1,360 San Diego companies moved to the Riverside area alone from 1989 to 2011, more than three times the number of businesses that moved to Texas during the same period.

Here’s a look at the top five California metros where San Diego businesses moved – and the net job gains or losses associated with those relocations over the last 20 years.

Riverside has claimed lots of San Diego businesses.

That region’s population increased about 30 percent from 2000 to 2010 alone, a factor that may have at least partly driven the trend.

The database showed a wide variety of San Diego firms moved to Riverside – everything from retail to health firms – but those that provide services to aid businesses, or do engineering or construction work led the exodus.

It’s tough to tell where in Riverside companies are moving, though – Temecula, Riverside and San Bernardino are all within the Riverside metro area used by the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources.

Here’s a comparison between the top metros that lured away San Diego companies from 2007 to 2011.

Economists caution all these moves don’t provide a full picture of the state or region’s business climate, or success on the job-creation front.

Relocation data is but “a pimple on the state of California economy,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.

He and others say the rate of new companies opening or shutting down, or the total employment in the region, could reveal far more.

“(Relocations) amount to not much of anything in the economy,” Levy said.

Clarification:  The database Voice of San Diego analyzed may track multiple moves for a single company.

This is part of our quest digging into the difficulties – real or perceived – of doing business in San Diego. Check out the previous story in our series, San Diego Is Attracting More Businesses Than It’s Losing, and the next, One Company That’s Moving Back to San Diego.

Lisa is a senior investigative reporter who digs into some of San Diego's biggest challenges including homelessness, city real estate debacles, the region's...

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