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Tesla is an American electric vehicle and clean energy company based in California. The EV manufacturer is having a moment, with its shares skyrocketing more than 275% year-to-date. The company is now worth more than Japanese powerhouse Toyota, with a market capitalisation of more than $290 billion (R4.88 trillion), making it the highest-valued automaker in the world. Tesla now looks to two American cities to expand its operations: Austin, Texas and Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the manufacturer is seeking tax rebates of more than $65 million (R1.97 billion) in the promise of up to 20 000 jobs. But public sentiment in the two cities shows a stark contrast. On the one hand, residents of Austin are skeptical about the subsidy, with a public vote required. And on the other, the people of Tulsa have paraded the idea of Elon Musk’s company moving in, with Tesla-themed snow cones and an incentive package with much guaranteed under state law. It seems South Africans aren’t the only ones wanting to attach themselves to Musk’s success. – Nadim Nyker
Free pizza and a 75-foot statue of Musk: the battle for the next Tesla plant
By Tina Bellon and Andrea Shalal
Tulsa, Oklahoma, is an oil-industry town with a 75-foot (23 m) statue called “The Golden Driller.”
Austin, Texas, is a progressive city in a conservative state with a thriving software industry and a “Keep Austin Weird” counterculture image.
These two very different towns have one thing in common: They are both on the short list to land a $1.1 billion (R18.47 billion) vehicle assembly plant for Tesla Inc – and up to 20,000 new jobs.
With a decision expected within a few weeks, the Austin-versus-Tulsa contest is heating up as Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk, stoke a bidding war over tax breaks and other concessions that would reduce the factory’s cost.
Travis County, home to Austin, is expected to vote this week on a portion of ten-year tax rebates totalling more than $65 million (R1.97 billion). The company told Texas officials the new plant would create at least 5,000 jobs, while Oklahoma officials were told about the creation of at least 7,000 jobs in the near term and up to 20,000 positions down the line.
But some Austin residents have told officials they are skeptical about subsidising what is now the world’s most valuable auto company, after previously turning away Amazon.com Inc.
“Instead of focusing to get people a living wage … you’re giving tax breaks to a company that’s worth billions. It makes no sense,” Silvia Zuvieta-Rodriguez, a student at the University of Texas, told officials at a recent county hearing.
Tesla in public filings with Travis County said local and state tax incentives “serve a critical role” in getting the new factory under way and successfully compete against longstanding industry rivals. Tesla did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
In Oklahoma, Tesla fever is on full display.
That Golden Driller statue? It was recently repainted by a local Tesla fan club to look something like Musk, sporting a Tesla logo on its chest and a belt buckle emblazoned with the company’s name.
Musk himself flew in on July 3 to visit the undeveloped site overlooking Tulsa that would house the new factory, which would build Model Y sport utility vehicles and Tesla’s futuristic Cybertruck. Musk met with the state’s governor under a white tent in the sweltering summer heat, according to pictures posted on Twitter by Oklahoma’s governor, Kevin Stitt.
Oklahoma officials were scheduled to make their pitch to dozens of senior Tesla executives in a Zoom call on Monday afternoon.
“The response here continues to be overwhelming,” said Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Sean Kouplen. “In the time that we’re in, having something positive to hold on to or grab is really making a difference.”
Even local retailers have caught the Tesla bug. Kouplen’s children came home the other day with a photo of a special Tesla-themed snow-cone sold by a local store, and a Tulsa pizzeria has promised to give out free pies to all Tesla employees.
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Tulsa, once known as the “Oil Capital of the World,” is trying to remake its image with a $1 billion renovation of its downtown, including hip coffeehouses, raft races, jazz clubs and efforts to attract white-collar workers who can work remotely.
A new video featuring testimonials from engineers who recently relocated to Tulsa has been viewed 200,000 times, including by Musk, according to Oklahoma officials.
Several websites attempting to appeal to Tesla have sprung up. One, called “Big F*cking Field,” purports to be in the voice of a plot of land and includes humorously fake endorsements by the likes of Thomas Edison.
“We were the original oil boom town in the ’20s and it’s a cool way of saying something is changing,” said Jacob Johnson, the creator of the websites and a Tulsa-based digital marketing executive.
In its search for a new plant site, Tesla short-listed eight central U.S. states and received incentive packages from many others, but only Tulsa and Travis County remain in the running. The company told Texas officials its plant would create more than 5,000 mainly low-skilled jobs at an average salary of $47,000 (R788 683).
Oklahoma has signed a nondisclosure agreement about its incentives package, but Kouplen claimed the bid was not only competitive but better in parts than Travis County’s. It includes business and personal tax breaks, most of which were already guaranteed under state law, which meant they would not require the kinds of public votes that have been delayed several times in Austin.
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