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Washington Vied For Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ Worth Thousands Of Jobs

Washington Governor Jay Inslee tried to woo electric carmaker Tesla Motors to build a massive battery factory in the Evergreen state. But according to at least one report, the company may have already broken ground near Reno, Nevada.

This isn’t just a factory. It’s a "gigafactory."

What is a gigafactory? That’s the name Tesla has given to its planned 10-million-square-foot, multi-billion-dollar battery production facility.

"This is one of the biggest factories of any kind in the world, it’s bigger than the sum of all lithium-ion factories in the world," Tesla CEO Elon Musk told CNBC last month.

Tesla said  the factory could employ more than 6,000 people. It would manufacture enough batteries to allow Tesla to produce 500,000 cars a year by 2020.

John Boyd, a consultant in New Jersey who helps companies decide where to locate facilities, called the factory the most "coveted economic development project in North America today."

So you can imagine states salivating to land this mega project - states like Washington, where Inslee has made alternative energy and green manufacturing top priorities.

"We will not pass up a golden opportunity to create jobs across this state, we need these clean energy jobs that work for the long haul," the Democratic governor said, at his inaugural address last year.

That golden opportunity appears to have arrived last fall – at least briefly. That’s when Tesla gave Washington the opportunity to compete for the gigafactory.

The Washington Department of Commerce said it mounted an aggressive effort that included the personal involvement of Inslee.

Several locations on both sides of the Cascades were considered.

Site consultant Boyd, who has worked extensively in Washington, said  the state had a lot to offer Tesla - including low-cost energy. Also, Moses Lake is already home to a carbon fiber factory for BMW electric cars.

"So there’s a precedent for green-friendly auto-manufacturing today in Washington state," said Boyd, who does not work with Tesla.

He said there are also some perceived business climate disadvantages based on Boeing’s experience in the state.

"Number one, it’s not a right-to-work state," Boyd said. "And this issue of contentious labor-management relations -- with disputes with unions and work stoppages -- that’s something that will make Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, cautious about investing in Washington state because of his experience in California."

In California, the United Auto Workers have made noise about trying to unionize Tesla workers.

Officials with the Inslee administration say they don’t believe the labor climate is the reason Tesla passed over Washington. And they remain optimistic there will be other opportunities to compete for future Tesla jobs.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."