By RICK HENDERSON

Staff Reporter

A pillar of L.A.'s new-media community says it's moving its headquarters across the country. So how do the locals respond?

They generally think it's good for L.A.

Many in the local tech community were remarkably sanguine about the merger between Pasadena-based EarthLink Network Inc. and Atlanta's MindSpring Enterprises Inc. even though the company will be headquartered in Dixie.

Rohit Shukla, who as head of the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance is charged with supporting and maintaining high-tech companies in L.A., believes the overall effects of the deal will be positive. Being part of MindSpring will allow EarthLink to grow faster, and company executives promise that there will be no local layoffs.

"We should stop tying civic success to the number of corporate headquarters," Shukla said. "This is not a zero-sum game."

The new company will keep the EarthLink name and become the nation's second-biggest Internet service provider, with about 3.5 million subscribers.

"It's a big day for the Tech Coast," said EarthLink founder and Chairman Sky Dayton soon after the deal was announced last Thursday.

Company officials say that not only will no one be laid off, but local hiring may actually ramp up. And Dayton said no one in the current Pasadena headquarters will be expected to relocate. "We've built a strong group of people on the Tech Coast, and we'll be sure that the company stays in touch with its base," he said.

Does all this sound too good to be true?

Brad Nye, executive director of Venice Interactive Community, a networking organization for new-media companies, points out that even if EarthLink maintains its local presence, the mere fact that its official headquarters is somewhere else damages L.A. in terms of image and self-esteem. "Another huge success story, like GeoCities, is leaving L.A.," Nye said. "It seems like every time we generate a great new Internet company, it moves.

"What's next?" he asked. "Will eToys be bought by Toys'R' Us and leave?"

It isn't unusual for top executives at companies that have just been acquired to claim, in the euphoria of the moment, that there will be no impact on the old headquarters town. Just last year, Yahoo Inc. was making similar promises when it snapped up GeoCities, only to later move most of the operations up north.

But Shukla and others believe this time is different.

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