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Was Lewis County in consideration for a massive Tesla Motors battery ‘gigafactory’?


It may have been a long shot, but all indications show that Lewis County was among several sites considered for a massive electric car battery production facility that could have been the largest industrial project in Lewis County in years.

Tesla Motors, the San Francisco-based electric car maker, hopes to build what it calls a “gigafactory” to supply enough batteries for 500,000 of its cars by 2020. The factory will be built on 500 to 1,000 total acres and employ 6,500 people, according to information available on Tesla’s official website.

Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network reported Friday that Washington State officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee himself, aggressively courted Tesla in an attempt to woo the electric-car manufacturer to build its factory in the Evergreen State.

But those efforts appear to be to no avail, with Tesla now officially considering sites in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Jenkins later wrote on Twitter that Lewis County was reportedly among the locations in the state considered for the gargantuan facility.

Today, Washington is not included in the list of finalists listed on Tesla Motors’ website. But it definitely was part of the conversation, if only for a brief time.

Dick Larman, executive director at the Lewis Economic Development Council, told The Chronicle Monday that representatives from the Washington State Department of Commerce approached the EDC in 2013 with a possible project that required 450 acres of land — however, they didn’t say exactly who the company was that came calling. The focus turned to the Industrial Park at TransAlta, an area of reclaimed former mining land that is now being aggressively marketed for large-scale industrial development, just north and east of Centralia, as the possible site.

“It fit well for that large of a project,” Larman said. “For the kind of business they were in, for the size they needed, we and the Port of Walla Walla were the only places in the state that could have accommodated it.”

The proposal was internally named “Project Rush,” with the Lewis Economic Development Council doing weeks’ worth of work on preparing a proposal to send back to the state Department of Commerce, Larman said. The proposal was due Nov. 6, 2013, and after that, conversations continued.

“There was a long series of questions that went on for quite some time,” Larman said. “As long as the questions kept flowing, we were happy.”

But those questions one day suddenly stopped, Larman said. The communication was over without a stated reason.

Was that project Tesla? Larman didn’t say whether it was or not, citing the fact that Commerce officials didn’t approach him with the name of the company — only the site requirements and a deadline for proposal.

But one thing’s clear: Had it gone through, it would have been the largest industrial project in Lewis County in quite some time, if not all time.

“I’ve never had a proposal like that in my time in Lewis County,” Larman said.

The Chronicle reached out to a representative at the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Business Development Unit seeking more information, but as of Tuesday morning the call was not returned.

Tesla has already invested in the Centralia area, having built a row of what it calls Superchargers at the Centralia Factory Outlets off Lum Road. Those units were built as part of a larger charging network for Tesla vehicles traveling up and down the West Coast.

Lewis County Commissioner Lee Grose told The Chronicle he and his fellow commissioners had been following developments on the possibility of the large facility through Larman’s weekly updates until it came to a halt.

“We knew there was a battery manufacturer looking at the site, but that was about it,” Grose said.

Grose said he’s not discouraged that the proposal is now off the table, instead looking at it as positive news that Lewis County has infrastructure in place to support large industry.

“I think that’s the positive, that perhaps it opens the door to have a national company like that look and say that we do have the available land here,” Grose said.

Larman agreed.

“We are truly the only large-lot industrial place to go on I-5 unless some counties go through some massive land-use changes,” Larman said. “It’s a huge asset for large projects.”

 

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