Tucson going after Tesla's 6,500 new jobs

2014-03-09T00:00:00Z 2014-08-05T16:13:54Z Tucson going after Tesla's 6,500 new jobsBy Gabriela Rico Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 09, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The city of Tucson has made a formal proposal to become the home of a $5 billion “gigafactory” for lithium-ion batteries for electric cars.

Tesla Motors Inc.’s planned 10 million-square-foot plant would need up to 1,000 acres of land and create about 6,500 jobs.

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said land within the city has been identified with access to the Union Pacific mainline and the interstates.

He also said the city has tax incentives to add to whatever tax incentives are offered by the Arizona Commerce Authority to lure Tesla to the state.

Rothschild said he could not disclose any other information on the city’s proposal.

“But I can say I look forward to meeting with Tesla officials and impressing them with what we have to offer,” he said. “Tesla’s founder wants to put men on Mars and power the world with solar. All our efforts in the state ought to be to bring Tesla to Tucson.”

“We are the home to the Mars exploratory mission at the University of Arizona and known nationally as the Solar City,” Rothschild said. “I think Tesla will feel right at home in Tucson.”

Aside from Arizona, Tesla is looking at sites in Nevada, New Mexico and Texas for the plant, the company has said.

Meanwhile, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith — who is running for governor — announced that he had sent Tesla CEO Elon Musk an invitation to visit Arizona.

“Arizona is on the short list for electric-car maker Tesla Motors’ $5 billion-dollar battery plant along with 6,500 high-value jobs,” Smith wrote in an email from his campaign, announcing the invitation. “The move would complement Arizona’s aggressive push to make manufacturing a central component of our growing economy.”

While officials from the three other states in the running for the Tesla plant have all made statements about Tesla, this is the first time officials in Arizona have spoken about the state being considered.

“We are proud to hear that Arizona is among the finalists,” the letter to Musk said. “Tesla can join companies such as Intel, Boeing, Apple, Raytheon and Honeywell that have chosen to locate a substantial manufacturing presence in our state.”

The letter goes on to say Arizona has a skilled workforce, business-friendly tax structure and quality education.

“Regardless of where you might choose to locate within Arizona, you can be assured that infrastructure will be available to meet your needs,” it reads.

Aside from Smith, the current president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the letter was co-signed by Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, immediate past president of the National League of Cities.

It was written on Maricopa Association of Government letterhead.

In response to emailed questions, CEO of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities Inc. Joe Snell wrote: “We believe that Southern Arizona is an ideal fit for Tesla’s new gigafactory.”

The key things Tesla has said it needs in a new site are “innovative manufacturing, reduction of logistics waste, optimization of co-located processes and reduced overhead.”

Analysts commenting to news outlets in the three other states have said a unique-approach proposal would get Tesla’s attention.

One unique approach is a program called Global Advantage.

It is a partnership between the University of Arizona Tech Parks and The Offshore Group that offers research and development at the tech park with manufacturing capabilities in Sonora. The program was recently endorsed by the governors of Sonora and Arizona.

“Global Advantage and the region Arizona-Sonora can bring a competitive advantage to Tesla,” said Offshore President Luis Felipe Seldner III. “This program distinguishes our region from the states we are competing with.”

Offshore owns and operates large industrial parks in Guaymas and Empalme, Sonora, and already has clients who are suppliers to Tesla, he said.

Seldner said what Telsa wants is available through this program — the expertise from the University of Arizona, solar and renewable energy initiatives in the region, simplified logistics and access to every market by road, rail and sea through the Port of Guaymas.

“We have exactly what Tesla is looking for,” Seldner said.

He said the Arizona Commerce Authority — which has taken the lead on wooing Tesla — has not approached Global Advantage about submitting a proposal.

Commerce Authority’s CEO Sandra Watson could not be reached for comment.

Tesla said it plans to directly invest $2 billion in the new plant, with the rest of the $5 billion coming from its partners.

A company timeline shows Tesla wants to pick the site this year, construct the facility in 2015 and begin production by 2017.

Last week, the company announced plans to add 30 new service centers and stores in Europe. The “supercharger” locations will let Tesla’s Model S cars travel longer distances, officials said.

Shares of Tesla stock are up around 600 percent in the past year. A recent analysis by Bloomberg News said the company is “the highest-flying automobile stock in at least two decades.”

Musk, the company founder, was born in South Africa and became a millionaire in his late twenties when he sold his company Zip2 to Compaq Computers. He helped launch PayPal in 2000, founded Space Explorations Technologies Corp. in 2002 and Tesla Motors in 2003.

In 2012, Musk launched the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station.

Contact reporter Gabriela Rico at grico@azstarnet.com or 573-4232.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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