The largest business park in the United States is over 160 square miles

Reading through a 2019 article in Wired about new fault line research on the West Coast, I noticed this paragraph about the biggest business park in America:

Eriksen’s offices are located in the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, the country’s largest business park. TRIC covers more than 160 square miles—three San Franciscos’ worth—of sculpted valleys and rocky hills. Its tenants include Google, Switch, and Tesla, along with 2,000 protected wild horses. TRIC is as sure a sign as any that the Reno area is reinventing itself, aiming to attract younger residents who come not for strippers and slot machines but for lucrative jobs and easy access to the great outdoors. Lance Gilman, the bolo-tie-wearing, larger-than-life businessman behind the development, told me that on his first tour of the land he saw a bird’s nest just sitting there on the ground, catching the light. He took it as a good omen, a sign of Reno’s impending transition from has-been gambling den in the mountains to tech-centric boomtown. (Still, this is Nevada: At one point during the planning phase, Gilman had to assume management of the nearby Mustang Ranch brothel—the first ever licensed in the state—to stop a biker gang from moving in and marring his glorious vision.)

One of Gilman’s employees, a project manager named Kris Thompson, agreed to take me on a tour of the site. We started at Tesla’s Gigafactory, which the company claims will be the largest building on the planet when completed. (“It put us on the world stage overnight,” Gilman told me.) Although still under construction, the Gigafactory was already so colossal that I could not make out its scale against the mountains beyond. As we drove on, Thompson directed my attention to the huge stone pads on which TRIC’s industrial structures are being erected. “We do not cut corners,” he said. “These pads have no subsidence. We have granite-basalt bedrock. For tech companies, that’s great.” (Eriksen seems to agree with this assessment: He and his colleagues have done nothing further to insulate their offices against quakes.) “The lack of a seismic threat in this area is one of our strengths,” Thompson continued.

But, of course, there is a seismic threat. According to Faulds, it’s about the same as what I already live with in California. The San Andreas may be closer to the breaking point, but the Walker Lane could see a major earthquake at any time.

Thompson and I returned to TRIC’s central office, where Gilman, now walled in by paperwork, was gearing himself up for several hours of new business calls. Last year, a company called Blockchains scooped up 67,000 acres of TRIC land to build a libertarian “smart city.” With that sale, the development had all but sold out. It was time, Gilman told me, to pursue new opportunities. “We’re in the path of growth,” he said, as heavy trucks boomed by on the highway, shaking the earth.

This four paragraph section is an interesting aside in the larger discussion of the Walker Lane Fault. But, it is a fascinating aside as office parks and industrial parks are not unique in the United States. Thousands of communities, ranging suburbs to exurban areas to more rural areas, have blocks of land set aside for commercial and industrial use. But, how many places have anything near 160 square miles set aside?

What makes this business park unique alongside the size is the relative location to other place, the particular setting, and the time the land became available. First, a location outside Reno puts the business park within roughly 4 hours of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area. That is not an easy commute but it can be done in a day or for a short trip. Second, the city of Reno and the state of Nevada have some features that are attractive to some companies. Third, having all of this land available now and in recent years means that some momentum can build regarding who is interested in the space (such as Tesla and libertarian-oriented firms). Take away one of these factors and the particular success of a business park of this size might be different or there might be a very different mix of interested companies. More broadly, numerous business facilities and stores sit vacant at desirable locations throughout the United States yet this business park attracts attention.

Nevada’s proposed $1.25 billion tax break for Tesla would just crack top 10 biggest tax breaks

Nevada is determining how much in tax breaks to offer Tesla – and the current deal appears to be $1.25 billion.

The tax incentive package assembled by Gov. Brian Sandoval to woo Tesla’s “Gigafactory” battery plant is unprecedented in size and scope for the state of Nevada and is one of the largest in the country.

The overall value to Tesla is estimated to be $1.25 billion over 20 years—a figure that is more than double the $500 million package CEO Elon Musk said would be required to draw the company.

If the deal is approved by the Nevada Legislature, Tesla will operate in the state essentially tax free for 10 years.

In exchange, the company must invest a minimum of $3.5 billion in manufacturing equipment and real property in the state—a threshold that is much lower than the $10 billion state officials say they expect the company to invest in Nevada over the next two decades.

This is a big financial deal, one that Nevada apparently doesn’t want to let get away. If approved, this would be the tenth largest tax break offered by a state to a corporation:

If approved by the Legislature, the tax incentive package would be the 10th largest in the country, according to data compiled by Good Jobs First, a labor-backed non-profit that analyzes tax incentives. Here are the current top 10 tax incentive deals in the country:

  • Washington: Boeing, $8.7 billion
  • New York: Alcoa, $5.6 billion
  • Washington: Boeing, $3.2 billion
  • Oregon: Nike, $2 billion
  • New Mexico: Intel, $2 billion
  • Louisiana: Cheniere Energy, $1.7 billion
  • Pennsylvania: Royal Dutch Shell, $1.65 billion
  • Missouri: Cerner Corp., $1.64 billion
  • Mississippi: Nissan, $1.25 billion

It would be interesting to know a few things:

1. What happens if Tesla does not provide the jobs or the value projected? Does their tax break adjust downward accordingly?

2. Who is Nevada competing against and what are their offers? With such high stakes, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a party to overbid against themselves.

3. What do Nevada residents think of this? Tesla could lead to jobs and tax revenues a decade down the road but this is a lot of potential revenue that a corporation will benefit from.

With this kind of money being thrown around (or at least theoretically available), don’t most municipalities and states have to play this game in order to attract businesses? And in the long run, who can keep up with this competition?

Nevada opens path to driverless cars

Even though driverless cars are not a common product yet, Nevada has opened a legal path for driverless cars on the road:

Assembly Bill 511, the first such legislation in the country, allows the state’s Department of Transportation to draw up rules that would authorize driverless cars. The regulations would include safety standards, insurance requirements and testing sites.

A driverless car is defined by the bill as using “artificial intelligence, sensors and global positioning system coordinates to drive itself without the active intervention of a human operator.” That includes technology such as lasers, cameras and radar…

Stanford University robotics professor Sebastian Thrun, a project leader on Google’s effort, said that nearly all driving accidents are due to human error rather than mistakes by machines.

“Do you realize that we could change the capacity of highways by a factor of two or three if we didn’t rely on human precision on staying in the lane but on robotic precision, and thereby drive a little bit closer together on a little bit narrower lanes and do away with all traffic jams on highways,” he said in a speech at the TED 2011 conference this spring.

So how long until this becomes a reality? It seems like we have been hearing about these possibilities for years. Here are a few things that could be holding up the process:

1. The legal side of things. Perhaps Nevada is really a pioneer here and will get the ball rolling.

2. The technology is not quite ready yet. It doesn’t sound like this is the issue.

3. We were waiting for a few companies to really push this. It is interesting that Google seems to be getting a lot of the attention. Obviously, their main business is not driverless cars but they had the resources and interest.

4. The cultural side: are people ready to see driverless cars on the road? Even if they are proven to be safer, will people accept them quickly or will it take some time?

Reversing Righthaven

The court system issued another stunning rebuke of Righthaven and its business model, as an Electronic Frontier Foundation press release reports:

In a decision with likely wide-ranging impact, a judge in Las Vegas today dismissed as a sham an infringement case filed by copyright troll Righthaven LLC. The judge ruled that Righthaven did not have the legal authorization to bring a copyright lawsuit against the political forum Democratic Underground, because it had never owned the copyright in the first place. [emphasis added]

This is a big win for bloggers, and the news gets even worse for Righthaven:

As part of his ruling today, the judge ordered Righthaven to show why it should not be sanctioned for misrepresentations to the court.

More coverage at Techdirt.

I guess we’re starting to get that copyright law clarity I was hoping for

Florida leads country with 18% home vacancy rate

While foreclosures and vacancies are a problem throughout much of the United States, some states have been hit harder than others. New data from the Census Bureau shows Florida has the highest home vacancy rate in the country:

On Thursday, the Census Bureau revealed that 18% — or 1.6 million — of the Sunshine State’s homes are sitting vacant. That’s a rise of more than 63% over the past 10 years…

The vacancy problem is more dire in Florida than in any other bubble market: In California, only 8% of units were vacant, while Nevada, the state with the nation’s highest foreclosure rate, had about 14% sitting empty. Arizona had a vacancy rate of about 16%.

In Florida, the worst-hit county is Collier — home of Naples — with a whopping 32% of homes empty. In Sarasota County, 23% of the housing stock sits vacant, while Lee County (Cape Coral) has a 30% vacancy rate. And Miami-Dade County has a vacancy rate of about 12%.

The article goes on to say that the problem of vacancies has grown partly due to a slow-down in population growth in the state in the late 2000s. Additionally, the large number of vacancies has helped lower housing values: “The median price for homes sold in January was just $122,000, according to the Florida Association of Realtors. That was down 7% from 12 months earlier and less than half the price at the peak of the market.”

It would be interesting to see new or recent studies that look at how these vacancies impact community and neighborhood life. Beyond the economic impact, how does having a large percentage of empty houses effect interactions that people have with each other?

Also, how exactly are vacancy and foreclosure statistics related? Nevada has the highest level of foreclosures but a lower rate of vacancies – is this because more people have actually gone through the foreclosure process?

(If you want some insights into how the Census Bureau calculates different vacancy rates, see here. This would have been helpful information for an earlier discussion about seemingly different vacancy statistics.)

Places that might be deserted due to a lack of homebuyers

The issue (amongst many) in the ongoing economic malaise is a lack of homebuyers. To have a hot housing market, such as happened in much of the 1990s and some of the 2000s, you need both sellers and buyers. What happens if this temporary trend of a lack of buyers turns into something less than temporary?

One suggestion is that certain areas will be deserted:

Many economists argue that the housing market may take four or five years to recover. Even if that’s proven to be true, the all-time highs of 2006 may never be reached again.

The devastation in some regions will never be repaired. Parts of Oregon, Georgia and Arizona have become progressively more deserted. Since jobless rates may never recover, there is little reason to hope that the populations in these areas will ever rebound. Some homes will be torn down in these pockets of high foreclosures in the hopes that reducing supplies will boost prices. Whether that idea will work in hard-hit areas such as Flint, Mich., and Yuma, Ariz., remains to be seen.

If this comes to pass, this would be an interesting period in American history. Yes, we do have some instances of population loss: the “ghost towns” of the Old West come to mind as people poured into a region and then seemed to leave just as suddenly. Rust Belt cities like Detroit and Buffalo and Pittsburgh have been experiencing a slow but steady population drain over the last few decades. And I have tried to find evidence of “lost suburbs” – places that would go against the typical narrative of American suburbs continuing to grow in population and sprawl further out from cities.

But this prediction suggests that certain metropolitan regions might not have any hope of recovery. While some of these are Rust Belt places that already had issues (like Flint), others are newer, particularly locations Nevada, Arizona, and California. As a matter of public policy, what should be done? Should we prop up locations with government aid? Should we write certain areas off and let them slowly lose population until the critical population mass is gone? Is contraction worthwhile (something that has been debated now for several years regarding Detroit) or is simply losing a city or region a better option?

In the long run, the only possible solution seems to be to convince people that these areas are desirable places to live. One selling point, and this seems to come up a lot on the front page of Yahoo, is that these places have affordable housing. This may be the case but that won’t be enough to attract people – these areas need jobs, economic engines that will bring stability and profits to hard-hit regions. And which companies might be willing to step up?

Interestingly, Illinois ranks #5 on this list. It looks like this analysis says the main factors are a limited population growth and a severe loss in manufacturing jobs over the recent decades. Certain areas of the Chicago region seem more immune to this than others. DuPage County is populous and wealthy, partly due to the influx of higher-end, technology-related jobs that have entered the county since the 1960s. Because of this, DuPage County has an unemployment rate always multiple points below the national average.