Elon Musk does not think small. The 43-year-old founder of PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, took on legacy organizations that seemed impregnable, challenging the mighty on their own ground.
A payment system that competes directly with Visa and MasterCard? How preposterous — didn’t he realize that it wouldn’t work?
A couple of billion dollars later, Musk founded SpaceX. He wanted to revolutionize space transport by developing better, cheaper and faster technology. SpaceX now has 3,800 employees, 50 launches on its manifest, and a transcendent goal — to colonize Mars.
In 2003, Musk turned his attention to the automobile business. Undeterred by history and conventional wisdom, he created Tesla Motors. The company’s goal: to design and build mass-market electric vehicles.
Eleven years later, Tesla is well on its way. The Tesla Roadster, with a range of more than 200 miles on a charge and zero-60 acceleration time of 3.7 seconds was the first all-electric dream car.
Last year, Consumer Reports gave the Roadster’s successor, the Model S sedan, its highest car rating ever — 99 out of 100. According to the venerable consumer journal, “It’s what Marty McFly might have brought back in place of his DeLorean in Back to the Future.”
Musk’s ambition is simple and forthright: to build companies that remake the world. That’s why Tesla plans to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery factory, a facility with more capacity than the rest of the world combined.
It’s a giant bet on the future — and also the biggest economic development plum to show up on the horizon in the past 30 or 40 years. The factory will employ 6,500 skilled workers, and be housed in a building of 10 million square feet. Yes, 10 million.
The first news account of the plans appeared in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes on Nov. 5, 2013. In a phone call with securities analysts, Musk said that the company was planning to build a lithium-ion “gigafactory,” probably in North America.
That announcement may have triggered a quiet gold rush, as economic development officials throughout the Western United States tried to find out more — selection criteria, timing and what kind of incentives the company would require. For a midsized city such as Colorado Springs, it would have been a game-changer.
It might have been a useful exercise to partner with the state and put together a proposal.
Colorado Springs wasn’t on the list. That’s not surprising, considering that officials at the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance weren’t aware of Tesla’s plans until the finalists were announced.
“We sent them some info (after March 23),” said Tammy Fields, the Business Alliance’s senior vice president of business development. “We partnered with Pueblo, but we never got any response.”
“I was not aware of the Tesla battery plant until after it was short-listed,” said city economic vitality chief Bob Cope. “All [of the short-listed cities] are preparing large incentive packages. I don’t see any hope in having Tesla’s consultants reopen the process after the short list, when we couldn’t compete on incentives. I don’t know if the RBA contacted Tesla; they may have without telling me.”
Elephant hunting is generally scorned in today’s fiercely competitive eco-devo game. It’s widely assumed that company consultants choose the finalists and won’t listen to appeals from cities that haven’t passed preliminary screening.
Still, it might have been a useful exercise to partner with the state and put together a competitive proposal. After all, Nikola Tesla himself began solving the mysteries of technology here in Colorado Springs back in 1899-1900. That alone might have gotten Elon Musk’s attention. But it’s too late now.
It’s not too late for Reno, though — the fading gambling mecca is one of the four finalists. A long piece in the New York Times on July 7 detailed how Reno’s economic development officials have capitalized on the city’s strengths.
A familiar name popped out — Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, also known as EDAWN. He’s already brought thousands of jobs to Reno, and he’s on the verge of landing the biggest fish of all.
You remember Colonel Kaz — he used to run our city’s Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., until he fell out of favor and took the job in Reno. The former Fort Carson garrison commander is smart, plain-spoken and too restrained to brag — but they’re going nuts in Reno, as the Reno Gazette-Journal reported the other day.
“There are different contests you can win,” said Dave Archer, CEO of Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. “This would be the Triple Crown, the World Series and the Super Bowl wrapped into one.”
And we don’t even have tickets to the game.