El Paso courting Tesla expansion, backed by Juarez maquiladora work force

Trade

Council directs city canager to write letter inviting California-based company to expand operations into West Texas

In this May 14, 2015, file photo, Tesla employees work on a Model S cars in the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. The parking lot was full at Tesla’s California electric car factory Monday, May 11, 2020, an indication that the company was resuming production in defiance of an order from county health authorities. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — If Elon Musk wants to move Tesla Inc. to Texas, El Paso is ready to help him relocate and hook him up with Juarez’s high-powered automotive manufacturing industry.

On Tuesday, the El Paso City Council voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Tommy Gonzalez to send the California-based electric car and solar panel manufacturer a letter inviting him to expand and bring related suppliers to this border region.

Mayor Dee Margo and Borderplex Alliance CEO Jon Barela said they’ve been working for weeks on a project tied to the resolution brought forth Tuesday by City Rep. Claudia Rodriguez.

“I think it’s needed. It sends a great message to the company,” Barela said. “There will be obviously intense competition for this project (but) it’s no secret they’ve had difficulties in California, as have most manufacturers.”

An aerial view of the Tesla Fremont Factory on May 12, 2020 in Fremont, California. Alameda County has ordered Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk to halt production at Tesla Fremont Factory days after Musk defiantly opened up the electric car manufacturing facility against a county ordinance. Musk insists that his company has been called an essential business by the state of California and should be allowed to be operational despite the county order. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Musk earlier this month threatened to move Tesla out of California and into Texas or Nevada, frustrated with obstacles to restart production amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately,” he tweeted on May 9.

The tweet from Tesla Inc.’s boss that raised the hopes of Texas cities.

Since then, local governments from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Hidalgo County, Texas have been inviting him to make good on the threat.

Jon Barela, CEO The Borderplex Alliance

“We are on the California trail very aggressively. We believe that we are a great place because we have an extensive auto supply chain established in our region and especially with burgeoning electronic vehicle production,” Barela said.

While a full-fledged move may or may not be in the cards, El Paso is making a strong push for Tesla to expand its operations here.

A big part of the pitch is the experienced, 300,000-strong maquiladora labor force just across the Rio Grande in Juarez, Mexico. About half of the 300-plus U.S.-run factories there already manufacture automotive components for Detroit automakers.

And they also know how to put together a mean solar panel.

“People don’t realize that Juarez is one of the largest manufacturers of solar panels in the Western Hemisphere,” said City Rep. Peter Svarzbein. “This is the kind of company that we want to position ourselves for.”

District 1 El Paso City Council Rep. Peter Svarzbein

Rodriguez said she wants to bring jobs and “positivity” to El Paso.

“I was just looking at this item as an opportunity to see what we can do to bring (Tesla) into El Paso,” she said. “It’s just something to bring some positivity into our community, see what kind of outreach we can do to bring in jobs, economic growth and positive vibes for everyone all around.”

Barela stressed that El Paso is getting solid investment leads even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are seeing a great deal of activity as a result of post-COVID projections for jobs, especially re-shoring jobs, particularly from China,” the Borderplex Alliance CEO said. “I think things are going in a very positive direction. We have a record number of inquiries in our region. I want to keep that momentum going.”

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