STOREY COUNTY — Tesla CEO Elon Musk has a message for the state of Nevada.
“Just keep being you,” said Musk, smirking. “That’s all. Don’t change, and it will be fine.”
Musk’s comment came during an Oct. 9 Q-and-A session with Gov. Brian Sandoval, who asked the electric car mogul what “the state of Nevada needs to do for companies like Tesla to continue to be successful?”
The back-and-forth between Musk and Sandoval highlighted the governor’s Oct. 9 tech summit inside the Tesla Gigafactory, located in Storey County about a half-hour east of Reno. The summit also included a discussion between Sandoval and Jeffrey Berns, CEO of Blockchains LLC, a mysterious startup that owns more than 67,000 acres of land at the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center. For perspective, Tesla owns roughly 3,000 acres at the center.
To kick off the inaugural tech summit, Sandoval spoke of the profound turnaround Nevada has experienced since he took office in the midst of the recession in 2011. He noted the state’s unemployment rate has dropped from 14 percent to a mere 4 percent from 2011 to 2017, a span in which Nevada has created more than 250,000 jobs.
“They mocked me. They called me ‘Governor Sunny,’” said Sandoval, flashing a smile.
Shrugging, he tacked on: “Guilty as charged.”
THE TESLA EFFECT
Under Sandoval’s watch, companies have invested nearly $30 billion in capital in Nevada in the last seven years. Sandoval pointed to Tesla’s decision four years ago to plant its Gigafactory in Northern Nevada as a major catalyst for the state’s seismic economic shift.
In attracting Tesla to the Silver State, Nevada lawmakers approved a subsidy package for the electric car and energy company worth $1.3 billion over 20 years. Tesla has already surpassed its minimum capital investment benchmark of $3.5 billion, which the state established in 2014.
Currently, Musk said, nearly 7,000 Tesla employees work at the factory. At its full, 5.8-million-square-foot build-out, the Tesla Gigafactory is projected to employ between 15,000 and 20,000 workers, he said.
Achieving that kind of massive growth, however, has its share of barriers. Musk said the biggest constraints on Tesla’s growth in Northern Nevada are “housing and infrastructure.”
“People need houses, roads, schools, electricity … all these things,” Musk said. “There’s just a tremendous amount of infrastructure that needs to get built. I think that is the main constraint on Gigafactory growth.”
When asked by Sandoval what it will take to clear those hurdles, Musk said it’s going to require “pretty much everything.” He said Tesla is even looking at creating an on-site housing compound at the Gigafactory, adding: “Which would be great, because then people could actually just walk here.”
Sandoval told reporters at the summit the state has to work with companies to address the affordable housing shortage.
“There’s great opportunities for us to be a part of the new economy,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade places with anybody. Compared to where we were eight years ago, leading the country in unemployment … these are good problems to have.”
During his opening remarks, Sandoval said one of the next big chapters in “this Nevada story” is that of the aforementioned Blockchains LLC.
Berns, the company’s CEO, told reporters Sandoval’s adoption of the “blockchain bill” — Senate Bill 398, which blocks local governments from taxing blockchain transactions — along with Tesla’s presence at TRIC were two major reasons the startup chose to launch in Nevada.
And in Nevada, Berns said, the company is “building a sandbox” for blockchain technology-based projects and products that “will change the world.”
“What’s happening right now in society is there’s a complete breakdown of trust in the institutions that we’re supposed to be able to trust, whether that be government, banks, corporations, news media,” Berns said. “Blockchains establishes trust from person-to-person, so you don’t need to rely on third-party or these institutions.”
Berns, a California attorney of a class-action firm that took on big banks, said he couldn’t go into details about the company because its plans are being announced Nov. 1 at a developer conference in Prague.
The question remains, however, what does Blockchains have planned for its 67,000 acres of Northern Nevada land? Notably, the company’s new 25,000-square-foot facility that opened in late June only covers about half an acre. At that time, the company had hired 71 people.
Berns wouldn’t reveal any details on that front, either. But, he anticipates Blockchains will employ between 10,000 and 20,000 people within the next 10 years.
“If you think we bought enough land that we are the same size as the city of Reno, let your mind go with what we have planned,” Berns told reporters. “There will be a huge physical presence and unlike anything that has ever been seen. What we will build here will change not just Nevada, but the entire planet. It, literally, will emanate from here. This will become the blockchain center of the universe.
“And because of that, all that blockchain has to offer will start here, will incubate here, will begin here.”