Steller: Tesla's two-state solution raises suspicions

2014-05-02T00:00:00Z 2014-05-02T10:08:52Z Steller: Tesla's two-state solution raises suspicionsTim Steller Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

You could look at this week’s news from Tesla Motors as hopeful for Tucson.

As the Star reported Thursday, CEO Elon Musk said in an interview with Bloomberg News that the electric-car company plans to pick two sites for its planned lithium-ion battery factory. The company had previously said it will build the plant in Nevada, New Mexico, Texas or Arizona.

“What we’re going to do is move forward with more than one state, at least two, all the way to breaking ground, just in case there’s last-minute issues,” Musk said. “The No. 1 thing is we want to minimize the risk timing for the gigafactory to get up and running.”

Tesla may eventually even build two factories, one at each site, he said.

That means twice the chances for Tucson, which has made a bid, to land the high-tech mega-factory, right? Well, maybe yes and maybe no.

Not to be a downer, but it may also mean that the best Tucson can hope for is to be pitted in a battle royal of tax incentives offered by two competing jurisdictions.

Recall my column of March 26: In 2007, Albuquerque won a competition for a new Tesla plant, only for California to catch Tesla’s eye with big new tax incentives. Tesla dumped New Mexico in 2008 and started seeking a site in California.

In 2009, Tesla went deep into negotiations with Downey, California, and officials believed the deal was done for their Southern California city, only to see Tesla switch at the last minute, in 2010, to a site in the Bay Area of northern California. That’s where the company finally put its manufacturing plant.

In other words, this is a company that has been willing to play places against each other, demanding every last penny in incentives and always keeping an eye out for other suitors.

I hope I’m wrong. Landing the Tesla plant will be a huge coup for whoever wins the competition, assuming it doesn’t give away too much in incentives. It could revolutionize Tucson’s economy.

And there is, after all, the possibility that Musk is being straightforward. He could really be worried about getting the job done on time, necessitating his two-state solution. He might really end up building two factories. The gigafactory might really end up employing 6,500 people, more than the number employed by Tesla now.

Let’s hope.

Joe Snell, the president and CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc., would only tell me we’ve got a good bid.

“We’ve aggressively been pursuing this for several months,” he said. “We feel we have a competitive proposal. It’s as competitive a value offering as I’ve seen in 30 years in economic development.”

I hope it convinces Tesla to actually choose Tucson, not use our city as a pawn in negotiations.

Gender-pay games

The National Republican Congressional Committee has already made a lot of cookie-cutter attacks on Democratic Rep. Ron Barber this go-around: Obamacare, Pelosi and other buzzword bombs dropped on his campaign and others.

But this latest one reported by my colleague Joe Ferguson Thursday, on pay equity between the sexes, is more interesting. The NRCC took the formula the White House used to determine that American women make 77 cents of every dollar a man makes — but used it to suggest that Barber doesn’t pay female employees as much as he pays men.

The formula is to compare the median wage of full-time male employees who have worked at least a year to full-time females who have worked at least a year. As it turns out, Barber’s office has a lot of female employees, but turnover and other factors tilted the statistics. For example, Barber’s third-highest-paid staffer, Maricela Solis, has only joined his staff this year, so her $70,000-per-year salary doesn’t count in the Republican formula.

The NRCC says Barber’s female employees make 84 percent of what his male employees do. When you count everybody working for the office now, the women actually make more than the men, Barber’s office countered.

None of this actually suggests that Barber is sexist in his hiring or what he pays women. Anyone who knows him knows that would be out of character. What it really shows is that the measures often used to show inequity can give a false picture.

That’s because they don’t take into account the different fields men and women tend toward, as well as the time off women often take to raise children, thereby setting them back on the career track, among other factors.

There is a gender-based pay gap, but it’s not the one the White House has trotted out recently or that the NRCC used in attacking Barber. In one recent study by the American Association of University Women, researchers controlled for career choice and other factors affecting pay and showed women one year out of college made 7 percent less than their male counterparts.

That’s accurate and alarming.

Job hopes and fears

Two reports came out this week giving conflicting views of the Tucson area’s job picture.

On Thursday, state economist Aruna Murthy forecast this year’s job gains. The state’s picture is not so hot, and Pima County’s is even cooler. Here, Murthy forecast a gain of 4,400 jobs this year, or 1.2 percent annual growth. That’s pretty poor.

But TREO released a new economic blueprint that aims to increase employment by 40,000 jobs over five years, or 8,000 a year. Based on Murthy’s forecast, 2015-2018 will have to be boom years to make that come true.

Polak’s still in!

A rumor made a quick round and then died this week: that Mike Polak is withdrawing from the Sunnyside School Board race.

He’s not — and he’s not happy that someone’s been spreading the rumor.

It would be hard for him to withdraw, anyway. The ballots were mailed out April 24, and his name is on them.

Of course, it’s apparent why some would want him to drop out. He and Beki Quintero are running against board member Bobby Garcia, and some recall supporters are worried that Polak and Quintero will split the anti-Garcia vote.

Contact columnist Tim Steller at tsteller@azstarnet.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter

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