A Poor, Sleepy Border Town Just Won Billionaire Entrepreneur Elon Musk's Business
Brownsville, Texas, is a small, sleepy border town where the average household income is just north of $30,000. Until yesterday, its main attractions included the Gladys Porter Zoo, the Sabal Palm Sanctuary for birds, and the Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park.
But as of this week, Brownsville, which has fewer than 200,000 residents, has just secured its spot as a destination in the international space race.
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX announced yesterday that it is going to build the world's first commercial rocket launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions in Brownsville.
For a town where roughly a third of residents live below the poverty line, having Musk come to town and build a rocket launchpad is a game-changing, pie-in-the sky economic win.
"What a historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the State of Texas. It's the culmination of a dream and a vision that began more than three years ago," Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said, in the written statement released from Texas Governor Rick Perry’s office announcing the decision. Brownsville spent three years working to win the bid.
Bringing the Space X launch facility to Brownsville will be a shot in the arm to the local economy, said Gov. Perry. "In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX's facility will provide myriad opportunities for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators," he said in the statement.
The launch pad is expected to bring 300 jobs and $85 million in capital investment into Brownsville.
Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX, which was founded in 2002, has as its purported mission to make it possible for humans to live on other planets. Prior to founding SpaceX, Musk founded the online-payment system PayPal and was a co-founder of the electric-car maker Tesla Motors.
Gov. Perry will provide $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is meant to attract businesses to the state, alongside $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund, which supports infrastructure for a rocket launch pad.
The deal with Brownsville is still technically pending until the town secures final approval on a handful of local agreements and regulatory permits.
The announcement came ahead of another big SpaceX milestone. Earlier today, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The rocket is carrying the AsiaSat8 satellite into orbit for Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Limited. The additional satellite will improve broadcast and telecommunications service of 450 television and radio channels for more than 710 million households across the Asia-Pacific region, according to a press release from the Hong Kong-based company.
Catherine Clifford is senior entrepreneurship writer at CNBC. She was formerly a senior writer at Entrepreneur.com, the small business reporter at CNNMoney and an assistant in the New York bureau for CNN. Clifford attended Columbia University where she earned a bachelor's degree. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow her on Twitter at @CatClifford.