States Compete to Help Finance Billionaire’s SpaceX Project

Texas offers about $20 million in incentives to lure Elon Musk's SpaceX, which would employ 600.

In a glass-walled conference room at the California headquarters of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk told Texas officials he was interested in building the world’s first commercial rocket launchpad in their state -- if the state could compete.

In the months after the 2011 meeting, state and local officials gave Musk, a billionaire, what he and his lobbyists sought: about $20 million of financial incentives, laws changed to close a public beach during launches and legal protection from noise complaints. SpaceX, as the company is known, hasn’t said whether the Texas site, near Brownsville, the poorest metropolitan area in the nation, will be selected over locations in Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico.

Left Behind

The employment potential -- including about 600 directly employed by SpaceX -- is more significant for the local economy. In the region near the launch site, at Boca Chica Beach in the state’s southernmost tip, two of five residents live in poverty. Leaders of the historically impoverished border town are seeking to make it as well known for space travel as Houston, home of NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Hiring Lobbyists

“It made me want the project,” Salinas said. “I thought, ‘If we’re not going to go all out for this project, which one will we go all out for?’”

California Trip

Pitts and his then-chief of staff, Aaron Gregg, visited SpaceX’s headquarters in January 2013. The company spent $6,803 on the three-day trip, including bills for a hotel steps from the Santa Monica beach, according to state records.

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