Technology Companies and Northern Nevada

Last week’s announcement of Tesla’s potential plan to build the Gigafactory in northern Nevada was both exciting and somewhat of a letdown if you had been paying attention to what was happening out at the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. The letdown part was Elon Musk’s announcement that they are still looking at other sites to break ground and that no final decision would be made for a few months.

But what if the Gigafactory, a 10,000,000 SF battery manufacturing plant expected to employ over 6,000 people, really did rise from the desert 15 miles east of Reno/Sparks? It is hard to imagine how a project of that size would impact the area and what effect it would have on people, resources and business. I have spent some time thinking about this and talking with others, so here are some things to ponder.

Economic Diversification – The efforts to diversify the northern Nevada economy are well documented and the great work that agencies like EDAWN and NNDA do have been successful in bringing new industries and new jobs to the area. We have a lot to offer here, but one challenge is access to a large, highly skilled workforce.

Could a Tesla type technology manufacturing operation attract enough new talent to the area to achieve that tipping point that transitions us from gaming and warehousing to high-tech? That will be necessary if we ever hope to be a viable option to the California’s Silicon Valley, Portland’s Silicon Forest or Austin’s Silicon Hills.

Workforce Development – For an operation the size of the Gigafactory to be successful wherever they locate, a significant amount of workforce development will be necessary. A highly automated factory will require not only factory floor workers in operations, management, and facility maintenance, but there will be hundreds of jobs in material supply, testing, training, and engineering. As well as hundreds more in administrative and support roles.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg, with an employer of that size the number of support industries, services and suppliers will create even more jobs. A 2013 report by Policom Corporation showed that for every 1000 factory jobs an additional 1700 jobs may be created in the community in retail, healthcare, transportation and service industries.

Environment – From everything that I have read, the manufacturing process for the types of batteries that Tesla will produce can be relatively clean. Of course that does not take into account the environmental concerns created from a growing population and the strain on water supplies, air quality and urban pollution.

One of the features of the Gigafactory project is a huge investment in alternative energy sources to power the plant and to provide the initial charge to a gigawatt of annual battery pack production. Preliminary site plans show both wind and solar generation facilities located at the site of the plant.

Depending upon your stance on growth, you are either for or against a project of this size. With no final determination from Tesla, we will all have to wait to see what kind of deal the state may make and if Tesla does build here, what kind of corporate citizen they will be.