Musk has his reasons for moving Tesla to Texas, but Guv’s culture war isn’t one of them

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Governor Greg Abbott showed great restraint when Elon Musk announced that Tesla would be moving its headquarters from Palo Alto, Calif., To Austin.

Abbott could have described Musk’s decision as an endorsement of the radical leadership he and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick are taking in Texas.

They and the Republican state lawmakers have been busy making scapegoats for undocumented immigrants and transgender Texans, waging war on the state’s major cities, effectively banning abortion, fighting warrants. face masks, prevent companies from requiring their workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and cut minority access to the ballot.

Abbott had previously used Musk as a political puppet, telling CNBC on September 2 that Musk was fine with the state’s “social policies”.

But the governor has become discreet, fadingly addressing the electric car maker in a tweet: “The Lone Star State is the land of opportunity and innovation. Welcome.”

Not even a blow to California.

It’s as if Musk asked Abbott ahead of his Oct. 7 announcement at Tesla’s annual shareholders meeting not to plunge him once again into the Texas GOP culture war.

Whatever his reason, I’m glad Abbott didn’t bend him to his political agenda, because what Musk, the second richest person on the Forbes 400 list, is doing in Texas will survive this shameful time of the year. history of our state.

Chain

Let’s go back to Tesla, which is building a $ 1.1 billion factory in Austin to make Cybertrucks.

Before the company’s arrival, the state already played an important role in the automotive industry. A chain of factories and supplier networks stretch from northern Texas to northern Mexico. Links include General Motors’ assembly plant in Arlington, Toyota’s pickup plant in South San Antonio, and Caterpillar’s Seguin plant, which manufactures engine blocks and heads for earthmovers.

Navistar International will join the automotive corridor when it opens its $ 250 million heavy truck plant, paint and body shops and logistics center on the south side next year. The facility will be able to assemble diesel and all-electric trucks.

And don’t forget the nonprofit Southwest Research Institute of San Antonio, whose automotive engineering division conducts cutting-edge research for car and truck manufacturers.

Love him or hate him, Musk attracts attention, as does Tesla. Headquartering in Austin will only raise the profile of Texas in the industry, which is quickly launching into manufacturing electric cars and trucks – in part because of Tesla’s influence.

And then there’s SpaceX.

Musk’s Money started Tesla in 2003. But Martin Eberhard, who made his fortune from selling his e-book development company NuvoMedia Inc. in 2000, designed and founded the company in Palo Alto. Musk’s undisputed dominance over Tesla’s development came later.

This is not the case with SpaceX. It was his idea, and he built it from nothing.

Its immediate goal was to build rockets capable of putting satellites into orbit more cheaply than any of its competitors – and to capitalize on the demise of NASA’s space shuttle program. From the start, company executives declared their aspiration to be the “Southwest Airlines of Space,” Ashlee Vance reported in her 2015 book “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” .

Musk’s long-term goal was and remains greater: to build a rocket powerful enough to reach Mars, opening up the Red Planet to colonization.

Musk arrived in Texas in late 2002 when his then-small business took over an engine testing site in McGregor, near Waco, according to the recently published book by former Houston Chronicle reporter Eric Berger, “Liftoff: Elon Musk and the desperate early days that launched SpaceX. Beal Aerospace, founded by Dallas banker Andrew Beal, had its engines detonated at the plant before shutting down in 2000.

Twelve years later, SpaceX began building its spaceport and rocket production plant in Boca Chica, near Brownsville. As originally planned, it was to serve as the launch site for SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. But the plans have changed and the only focus of the budding spaceport is now the next-gen spacecraft.

As we reported earlier this year, SpaceX isn’t a big neighbor to South Texas.

It closes public roads more than the federal government allows, frequently cutting off access to Boca Chica beach. And a ship explosion on March 30 damaged the fragile ecosystem near the site.

As Express-News contributor Richard Webner wrote: “Thousands of pieces of twisted metal, and all that remained of liquid oxygen and methane in the rocket’s tanks, fell onto the wetlands. federally protected mudflats, coastal meadows and sand dunes surrounding the launch. site, home to endangered bird species, sea turtles and wild cats. ”

Musk has won a lot of his detractors. He relentlessly beats Tesla and SpaceX, and his tech antics on Twitter are squeaky.

There is this also: its two companies owe their existence in large part to government grants, loans and contracts. Based in Hawthorne, Calif., SpaceX might not have survived without a key NASA contract in 2006 that Musk worked his way through.

Describing its importance to the company, Berger wrote: “The contract value of $ 278 million would allow Musk to accelerate his plans to build the large orbital rocket and secure the future of the company while his team was solving their problems with the Falcon 1. Perhaps most importantly, with the contract award, NASA had approved the company. “

Yet despite all the caveats about Musk and his companies, the fact remains that he is a visionary and an innovator.

He did well with the sale of PayPal in 2002, which he co-founded with Peter Thiel, now a venture capitalist and the public face of data analytics firm Palantir. eBay bought PayPal for $ 1.5 billion and Musk got a salary of $ 180 million.

He quickly committed $ 100 million of his installment to launch SpaceX. Tesla ate most of the rest.

Marriage of convenience?

Tell me that it did not take courage and fidelity to two radical visions.

Musk rekindles our long-standing enthusiasm for space exploration. And it makes Texas a center of power in the private sector space industry.

It is also making the mass production of electric vehicles a reality, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. And he’s now firmly planting Tesla in Texas.

All of this makes his apparent partnership with Governor Abbott a mystery.

We don’t know what the long-term impact of Abbott’s and corporate shift toward the state economy will be. But we know their view of Texas is rooted in resentment and fear – primarily white Texans losing their political and cultural preeminence, overwhelmed by the explosive growth of minority populations.

So the question is, how long can a backward state claim to welcome and nurture innovation, as Abbott did in his Tesla tweet last week?

What drives true innovators like Musk are the twin beliefs that the future can be better than the present and that they can help make it happen. They are optimists with plans.

Musk may have many reasons for moving Tesla’s headquarters to Austin, including exemption from state income tax. But Abbott’s haunted and pessimistic politics is not one of them.

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