Sacramento's Mather Airport in long-shot bid for Tesla's big factory

The Sacramento BeeMay 22, 2014 

Hyperloop Travel

FILE - In this June 22, 2012 file photo, Tesla Motors Inc. CEO Elon Musk holds up a bottle of wine given as a gift from one of their first customers, right, during a rally at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif.

PAUL SAKUMA — AP

The business park at Mather Airport is being considered as a site for Tesla Motors Inc.'s massive new battery factory, although Sacramento County officials acknowledge they're facing long odds.

The former Air Force base off Highway 50 is one of several California locations being considered by the electric-car manufacturer. But the Palo Alto company's own chief executive said recently it's more likely Tesla will choose a site out of state for the factory, which would employ 6,500 workers at full build-out.

CEO Elon Musk said May 7 that California's chances are "sort of improbable." He said Tesla wants to break ground as early as June, and he doubts California could deliver the necessary permits and regulatory approvals in time.

As a result, Sacramento County officials say they're working on the project but aren't counting on the factory.

"One month -- that's a pretty big mountain to climb," said Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli, whose district includes Mather. "Nothing's impossible."

Tesla officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Announced in February, Tesla's so-called Gigafactory is one of the biggest economic-development plums to come along in decades. Although Tesla's main assembly plant is in Fremont, the manufacturer angered California officials by designating four other states as finalists for the project: Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

After Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others prodded the company to rethink its decision, Tesla agreed to consider California.

The governor's office of business and economic development contacted Sacramento officials about Mather, and the company is aware of the site's attributes, said Rob Leonard, chief deputy county executive. Mather, which is run by the county, has been converted into a cargo airport and business park since the Air Force left in the mid-1990s.

Leonard said he's been told several other California sites are being considered as well.

Brook Taylor, deputy director of Brown's economic development office, wouldn't comment on Mather or go into detail about the state's pursuit of the Gigafactory.

"The administration is working every day to bring companies to California and help them grow here," he said in an email. "Tesla is certainly one of those companies."

In April, the company leased a 430,000-square-foot industrial site in Lathrop, just west of Manteca. The building, a former DaimlerChrysler distribution center, will reportedly become a parts-assembly facility.

However, Musk made it clear that California's chances of landing the much larger Gigafactory aren't strong.

"I think California's still in the sort of improbable, but not of being impossible, category at this point," he said in a conference call with investment analysts May 7.

He added that "the governor and his staff have really, I think, tried to do everything they can to make California a significant candidate for the Gigafactory." But he said other states offer a "much more streamlined approach" to regulatory approvals.

Leonard said Mather has available land that's been entitled. While Tesla is seeking around 500 acres for its factory, Leonard said the Mather site has plenty of land south of the airport proper.

The reporter can be reached at (916) 321-1066, dkasler@sacbee.com or @dakasler on Twitter.

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