Snagging the Tesla Gigafactory battery plant would be one of the biggest economic development coups for whichever state ends up landing the prize. The $5 billion factory to build batteries for the electric car manufacturer is expected to employ some 6,500 people—and make the hotly-desired luxury car available to a wider range of people.
Wherever the factory is built, it’ll be somewhere in the Southwest—Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that Texas, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico were the sites he was considering, although reports that California is trying to enter the mix surfaced last month. Of the four states most clearly in the running, though, Texas has the most to offer. Not only has the state established itself as a hot destination for growing businesses under Rick Perry’s time in office, but it can offer something that none of the other states can: namely, access to the 26 million potential Texas customers who currently have a weird experience if they try to buy a Tesla in state. Right now, shoppers who go to one of the company’s Texas retail locations to check out the car can’t receive sales information from employees. Gawker’s car blog, Jalopnik, explained the process last year:
Store employees, for example, may not tell visitors how much a Model S costs. They can’t give test drives. They can’t discuss financing, leasing, or purchasing options.
Employees are not even allowed to refer interested people to an out-of-state store. No sales-related activity is permitted.
“People are forced to leave the gallery frustrated, lacking sufficient information about the car and the brand,” notes the Tesla website.
When we called the Austin store, the young lady who answered the phone would say only that the Model S was priced like similar luxury sedans, and referred us to the Tesla website.
This is the result of laws that require only franchised dealers be able to sell cars in Texas. Musk came to Austin last year to pursue a legislative solution to the problem—a narrowly-tailored bill that would permit companies that sell 100-percent electric cars like his to circumvent the current restrictions—but the bill died in committee. But if Musk can receive assurances from Texas lawmakers that the 2015 legislative session will find such a bill traveling along well-greased wheels, it might be offering something that Nevada (population 2.8 million), Arizona (population 6.5 million), and New Mexico (population 2 million) would have difficulty matching. This is clearly something Tesla wants badly (they have a page on their website for “Texas Advocacy”), and deeper ties in the state could also help put pressure from constituents on lawmakers to change the rules.
It’s hardly a fait accompli that this is going to happen, of course, but even without assurances, there’s no reason to doubt that Texas is strongly in the running to house the Gigafactory. If it does, though, there’s a bigger question left to ask: Where is it going to be?
The leading candidates, right now, are Dallas and San Antonio. San Antonio has long been a likely location for the factory—some analysts consider the Gigafactory campaign to be a two-horse race between the Alamo City and Reno, Nevada—but Dallas emerged as a viable contender last week, as well, with 4,000 acres of south Dallas County being eyed as a potential location:
The site off Interstate 45 in southern Dallas County emerged this week as one of the locations.
The Dallas Business Journal says it is part of 4,000 acres on either side of Interstate 45 owned by Prime Rail Interests of Colleyville.
Until now, San Antonio was considered the front-running area in Texas, one of at least four states vying for the factory, which will employ up to 6,500 people.
At first blush, San Antonio seems like the stronger contender: It’s a growing city with a blue collar aesthetic, which makes manufacturing an obvious fit. Plus, the city already houses the Toyota Tundra plant. Scoring the Tesla plant would also be a unique opportunity to establish some of the hipster street cred that San Antonio is always looking to build on. Building batteries for the coolest car company in the world is a nice little cultural makeoever.
Still, when things that aren’t NBA championships are looking for a Texas city to call home, it’s usually not San Antonio’s name that gets called. San Antonio residents are well familiar with watching all of the high-profile additions in the state land in Dallas, Houston, or Austin, which means it’s impossible to count Dallas out. The Dallas stereotype is certainly oil-monied rich Texans, but that’s a stereotype that ignores the thousands of people in the DFW area whose lives would be dramatically improved with the sort of job opportunities that the Tesla Gigafactory would bring. Still, there would be some weirdness for a city so closely associated with oil laying claim to a factory that makes batteries for electric cars, but that’s nothing that a $5 billion factory can’t smooth out.
Of course, the Gigafactory might well end up in Reno, rendering all of this moot—but as long as we’re speculating wildly here, the question of whether San Antonio or Dallas is a better fit for the place is really a question about which is more likely: Is San Antonio continuing to establish itself as a first-rate Texas city, or is Dallas still such a powerhouse that it’s able to snatch away things that, by most reasoning, probably belongs a few hundred miles south on I-35?