The San Joaquin Valley city of Stockton has had it rough.
It’s been plagued with soaring home foreclosures, a municipal bankruptcy and 10%-plus unemployment.
Now, locals are hoping that their luck might change.
Their guarded optimism centers on California’s effort to woo a much-sought-after plant to make batteries to power electric cars built by Tesla Motors Inc.
The Golden State was not even in the running until a few months ago, when the Palo Alto company expanded its candidate list that once included only Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas.
In May, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk called California a “long shot” for the massive, 6,500-worker “gigabattery” factory expected to cost as much as $5 billion.
But already several areas are being touted for the job. They include Stockton, the East Bay city of Concord, Sacramento, and Imperial County on the Mexico border, east of San Diego.
But Stockton, population 296,000, is shaping up as a leading in-state contender, economists and business development experts say. They point to plenty of industrial-zoned property, a port that handles ocean-going vessels, major freeway access and nearby rail and airport facilities.
What’s more, they note, Stockton is about an hour’s drive from Tesla’s car assembly line in the San Francisco Bay Area city of Fremont and 14 minutes by car from Tesla’s new parts facility in Lathrop. And San Joaquin County is home to a pool of former auto workers.
“If they locate in California, is Stockton the clear winner? The answer to that one is yes,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.
He cautioned, however, that Tesla might go with one of the other four states because of lower labor costs, fewer taxes and less government red tape.
Nevertheless, Stockton’s attributes, including affordable housing, ought to grab Tesla’s attention, said Jim Wunderman, chief executive of the Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored organization of 260 large employers in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and other Northern California counties.
“I think it’s a big advantage to California that Tesla is already here,” he said. “All things being equal, it’s better to have your plants close to your headquarters so there are better controls and more efficiency.”
Tesla, he said, “is a kind of company we want to keep growing in California” because “it’s a model for other advanced manufacturing techniques.”
It’s not known whether Wunderman’s argument is winning any converts at Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters. The company isn’t commenting on its search process. The office of Gov. Jerry Brown is equally mum.
“There are a lot of opportunities here, and we continue to put our best foot forward,” said Shelley Burcham, vice president of the San Joaquin Partnership, an economic development agency that includes Greater Stockton. “We’ve made our best pitch for our region.”