Nevada governor Brian Sandoval hosted a technology and innovation conference at Tesla’s Gigafactory 1 on Tuesday. When he took office in 2010, unemployment in Nevada was 14%. More than 175,000 residents of the state lost their jobs after the Republican-induced financial meltdown of 2008, and the rate of bankruptcies and home foreclosures were the highest of any state in the nation.
Sandoval spearheaded an economic renewal program that convinced Tesla to build its first Gigafactory in an undeveloped industrial park outside the city of Sparks, not far from Reno. Nevada offered Tesla an attractive package of tax incentives to lure it to Nevada, but the benefits were tied to a set of specific performance goals that Tesla has to meet in order to receive them. So far, Tesla has hit every target set forth in the agreement it signed with the state, and it is ahead of schedule building the Gigafactory.
Since Tesla came to town, the community around Sparks has flourished and other tech companies such as Apple, Switch, and Google have set up shop in Nevada. But growth comes at a cost. From roads and schools to hospitals and fire departments, the infrastructure necessary to support a community has lagged behind the influx of new workers. Home prices and apartment rents have increased by 50% or more in the past few years.
At the conference, Elon said he can foresee doubling the size of Gigafactory 1 and tripling the workforce from 7,000 today to more than 20,000, according to a report in the Reno Review Journal. “The biggest constraint on growth here is housing and infrastructure,” Musk said. At last report, the median price of a new home in the Reno/Sparks area is over $389,000 and average rentals are creeping close to $1,400 a month. “We’re looking at creating a housing compound on site at the Gigafactory, using kind of high-quality mobile homes,” Musk said. (Perhaps he read our fake story about Tesla cities on April 1, 2017.)
He praised governor Sandoval for how proactive he and his administration have been in addressing the need for community infrastructure and affordable housing. The governor told the audience his administration is working with housing developers to address the shortage of dwelling units. “We’re constantly looking at ways to allow for the construction of that affordable housing,” Sandoval told the press.
The road forward has not always been smooth. Just this week, Tesla settled a lawsuit brought by the state of Nevada which claimed the company was in arrears by $665,000 on unemployment insurance payments. Tesla says the deficit was the result of a clerical error. But the money has now been paid and the lawsuit dismissed.
When Tesla first started building Gigafactory 1, no one really knew whether it would be an expensive boondoggle or a success that would attract other businesses to the area. Now that that question has been answered, the hard work of fashioning a new community needs to move forward. Musk told the governor on Tuesday, “Nevada’s a real get-it-done state. Just keep being you. Don’t change, and we’ll be fine.”
CleanTechnica contributor Chanan Bos has created a rendering of what a housing area near Gigafactory 1 might look like. Elon’s use of the phrase “high-quality mobile homes” may not have been the ideal choice of words. Mobile homes remind people of the FEMA trailers the government used to house the homeless after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans. One assumes Musk was referring to manufactured housing, which can be quite spacious and even elegant.
The idea harks back to the traditional company town where workers lived near the mills that employed them. One such community, the Siemensstadt Housing Estate near Spandau, Germany, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. We can assume if Elon is behind the idea, it will be more than an ordinary trailer park.
Hearing Musk say he is considering doubling the size of the Gigafactory and greatly expanding its workforce is the reward Governor Sandoval and Nevada get for taking a chance on Tesla when it was still a fledgling organization. The agreements the state and Tesla signed have worked out exceedingly well for all parties so far. It appears that more good news is around the corner on Electric Avenue, Sparks, Nevada.