The electric vehicles producer is already plotting an expansion. Courtesy of Tesla

Less than a year after Tesla opened its factory in Texas, the maker of electric vehicles is already plotting an expansion.

A permit application filed June 29 with the City of Austin and approved July 1 shows Austin-based Tesla plans to build a two-floor, 500,000-square-foot space to enlarge its General Assembly 2 and General Assembly 3 operations. Currently, Tesla produces Model Y vehicles at the 2,500-acre site, which is along State Highway 130 near State Highway 71 East.

The 500,000-square-foot expansion, first reported by Tesla watcher Sawyer Merritt, would grow the size of the factory by more than 11 percent.

Production at the plant began late last year. In April, Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk hosted an invitation-only grand opening bash at the factory.

The Tesla permit doesn’t indicate how much the expansion will cost. But we can get an idea by looking at how much the factory cost to build.

Paperwork filed last year with the Texas Department of Licensing and Registration identified $1.06 billion in construction expenses for nearly 4.3 million square feet of space. That works out to $247 per square foot. If you apply that figure to the proposed expansion, it would cost nearly $124 million. Of course, that’s a rough estimate, and construction costs have gone up since the existing factory was finished.

The proposed expansion comes as overall production at Tesla’s plants has tapered off. According to the Reuters news service, analysts predict Tesla will report second-quarter deliveries of 295,078 vehicles. That would be below the record-setting total of 310,048 vehicle deliveries in the first quarter.

It’s not known precisely how many vehicles Tesla is producing at the Austin plant, but industry insiders estimate the total ranges from 2,000 to 5,000 vehicles per week. The Electrek blog says Tesla is aiming to manufacture 10,000 vehicles per week there by the end of this year.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Richard Kinder once again lands on this prestigious list. Photo courtesy of BBVA

11 Houston billionaires join Elon Musk on Forbes' list of the world's richest

mo' money

In the battle of the world’s billionaires, a newly minted Texan comes out on top — and nearly a dozen Houstonians fare quite well.

Forbes magazine’s new ranking of the world’s richest people puts Texas transplant Elon Musk at No. 1, with a net worth of $219 billion. That’s up from $151 billion in 2021, $24.6 billion in 2020, $22.3 billion in 2019, and $19.9 billion in 2018. The CEO of Austin-based vehicle manufacturer Tesla and leader of a host of other businesses, Musk was ranked second on Forbes’ 2021 list. He sat behind Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose net worth in 2021 was pegged at $177 million. This year, Forbes estimates Bezos’ net worth is $171 billion.

Here in Houston, 11 locals land on the prestigious list. They are:

  • Oil mogul Jeffery Hildebrand: tied for No. 316, $7.5 billion, up from $2 billion
  • Pipeline magnate Richard Kinder: tied for No. 316, $7.5 billion, up from $7 billion
  • Houston siblings and pipeline heirs Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Duncan Williams: each tied for No. 375, $6.6 billion, up from $6 billion
  • Hospitality titan and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta: tied for No. 471, $5.6 billion, up from $4.6 billion
  • Houston software entrepreneur Robert Brockman: tied for No. 601, $4.7 billion, down from $6 billion
  • Toyota mega-dealer Dan Friedkin: tied for No. 665, $4.3 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Houston Texans owner Janice McNair: tied for No. 687, $4.2 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Hedge fund honcho John Arnold: tied for No. 913, $3.3 billion, unchanged from last year

Meanwhile, Nearly 30 other Texans appear in this year’s top 1,000. Here, they are grouped by where they live and their global ranking, 2022 net worth, and 2021 net worth.

Austin

  • Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla: No. 1, $219 billion, up from $151 billion
  • Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies: No. 24, $55.1 billion, up from $45.1 billion
  • Venture capitalist Robert Smith: tied for No. 369, $6.7 billion, up from $6 billion
  • Tito’s Vodka baron Bert “Tito” Beveridge: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, down from $4.6 billion
  • Tech entrepreneur Thai Lee: tied for No. 709, $4.1 billion, up from $3.2 billion

Dallas

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: tied for No. 185, $10.6 billion, up from $8.9 billion
  • Banking and real estate kingpin Andy Beal: tied for No. 201, $9.9 billion, up from $7.9 billion
  • Oil and real estate titan Ray Lee Hunt: tied for No. 386, $6.5 billion, up from $4.2 billion
  • Money manager Ken Fisher: tied for No. 509, $5.3 billion, down from $5.5 billion
  • Media magnate and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: tied for No. 601, $4.7 billion, up from $4.4 billion
  • Oil and gas guru Trevor Rees-Jones: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, up from $4 billion
  • Hotel and investment titan Robert Rowling: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, up from $3.9 billion
  • Oil baron W. Herbert Hunt: tied for No. 665, $4.3 billion, up from $2 billion
  • Margot Birmingham Perot: widow of tech and real estate entrepreneur H. Ross Perot Sr., tied for No. 665, $4.3 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Oil and gas tycoon Kelcy Warren: tied for No. 728, $4 billion, up from $3.4 billion
  • Real estate bigwig H. Ross Perot, Jr.: tied for No. 951, $3.2 billion, up from $1.6 billion

Fort Worth

  • Walmart heiress Alice Walton: No. 18, $65.3 billion, up from $61.8 billion
  • Oil and investment guru Robert Bass: tied for No. 536, $5.1 billion, unchanged from last year
  • Private equity magnate David Bonderma: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Investor and oilman Sid Bass: tied for No. 883, $3.4 billion, up from $2.9 billion

Elsewhere in Texas

  • Sports and entertainment mogul Stan Kroenke (Vernon): tied for No. 183, $10.7 billion, up from $8.2 billion
  • Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke (Vernon): tied for No. 227, $9 billion, up from $8.4 billion
  • Oil tycoon Autry Stephens (Midland): tied for No. 552, $5 billion, not previously ranked

“The tumultuous stock market contributed to sharp declines in the fortunes of many of the world’s richest,” Kerry A. Dolan, assistant managing editor of Wealth at Forbes, says of this year’s ranking. “Still, more than 1,000 billionaires got wealthier over the past year. The top 20 richest alone are worth a combined $2 trillion, up from $1.8 trillion in 2021.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Now that Tesla's vehicle manufacturing factory is up and running, the company is planning another facility adjacent to the site. Courtesy of Tesla

Tesla cranks up Texas expansion with plans for massive new facility

driving more growth

Tesla has barely begun manufacturing electric vehicles at its new factory in east Travis County, and it’s already planning an expansion.

The Austin-based automaker is eyeing a 32-acre site adjacent to its auto manufacturing plant to build a nearly 1.6-million-square-foot industrial facility that would produce cathodes for battery manufacturing, as first reported by the Electrek industry website.

Tesla owns about 2,100 acres where the new 4.3-million-square-foot factory stands. The factory started producing vehicles late last year.

An application submitted earlier this month for an Austin building permit lists Colorado River Project LLC as a co-applicant for a project named “Cathode,” according to the Reuters news service. That’s the corporate name Tesla has used throughout the permitting process for the new factory. A spokeswoman for Austin Development Services Department told Reuters that the latest permit is for a Tesla cathode facility.

Reuters explains that cathodes are the most expensive component of a battery, and making them requires a lot of space and emits significant amounts of carbon dioxide.

It’s unclear when construction on the Tesla cathode facility might start and how many people it might employ. The Tesla car manufacturing plant is expected to employ at least 5,000 people.

A search of Tesla’s website found one job posting in Austin that contains the word “cathode.” The company is seeking an “energetic and engaging” quality supervisor to lead one of the first teams of quality technicians for Tesla’s “Cathode Quality Control Lab.”

“You will exercise your exceptional people skills to delegate tasks and guide personnel in developing one of Tesla’s newest manufacturing teams. Your proven record of driving improvements and agility in responding to quality excursions will enable you to set the tone for the rest of the team,” the job posting says.

Last year, Tesla moved its headquarters from Northern California to 2,100-acre site in east Travis County.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair at the University of Houston, was named to the National Academy of Engineering. Photo via uh.edu

5 Houston researches named to prestigious engineering organization

newly named members

A national organization has named its latest cohort of new members — which includes Elon Musk — and five Houston-area innovators have also made the cut.

The National Academy of Engineering elected 111 new members and 22 international members, bringing the total U.S. membership to 2,388 and the number of international members to 310. The appointment is among the highest professional distinctions in an engineer's career. Each member has been found to have made significant contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature," according to a news release.

The newly elected class will be formally inducted during the NAE's annual meeting on Oct. 2. The five Houston-area appointees and what they are being recognized for are:

  • Richard G. Baraniuk, C. Sidney Burrus Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rice University. For the development and broad dissemination of open educational resources and for foundational contributions to compressive sensing.
  • Donald Nathan Meehan, president, CMG Petroleum Consulting Ltd.. For technical and business innovation in the application of horizontal well technology for oil and gas production.
  • Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston. For establishing the field of flexoelectricity, leading to the creation of novel materials and devices and insights in biophysical phenomena.
  • Leon Thomsen, chief scientist, Delta Geophysics Inc. For contributions to seismic anisotropy concepts that produced major advances in subsurface analysis.
  • David West, corporate fellow, Corporate Research and Innovation, Saudi Basic Industries Corp. For solutions to problems with technological, commercial, and societal impacts while advancing chemical sciences by applying reaction engineering fundamentals.

In a news release from UH, Sharma says it's the highest honor he could achieve as an engineer. The NAE recognized Sharma's work within flexoelectricity, a relatively understudied, exotic phenomenon that has the potential to provide similar functionality as piezoelectrics.

“Nature has provided us very few piezoelectric materials even though their applications in energy harvesting and in making sensors is very important. What we did was use theory to design materials that perform like piezoelectric ones, so that they can create electricity,” says Sharma in the release.

Sharma has worked at UH since 2004, and previously conducted research at General Electric for three years.

“The recognition of Professor Sharma by the National Academy of Engineering highlights a career full of outstanding research that has contributed to the understanding of engineering and helped uncover solutions for some of the world’s most significant problems,” says Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, in the release.

Over at Rice, Baraniuk's engineering career includes computational signal processing, most recently as it relates to machine learning. He's best known for spearheading the creation of Connexions, one of the first open-source education initiatives, and its successor, OpenStax, which publishes high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks that are free to download.

“It’s auspicious timing that the NAE citation mentioned open education, because the seventh of February was the 10th anniversary of OpenStax publishing its first free and open textbook,” he says in a release from Rice. “It’s neat to have this happen in the same week, and worth pointing out that if ever there was a team effort, it was Connexions and OpenStax.”

Baraniuk has been at Rice since 1992, has three degrees in electrical and computer engineering.

Tesla's Austin factory could generate a $10 billion local investment, according to Musk. Courtesy of Tesla

Elon Musk says Tesla’s new Texas factory will drive $10 billion in total investment

revved-up ROI

With 66.8 million followers on Twitter, Elon Musk’s tweets attract an outsized amount of attention. So, when Musk tweeted December 16 that the new Tesla factory east of Austin would represent a long-term investment of at least $10 billion, generating over 20,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs, it raised more than a few eyebrows.

Until that tweet appeared, Tesla — the Austin-based electric vehicle maker headed by Musk — had indicated it would invest $1.1 billion in the plant and would create at least 5,000 jobs and potentially 10,000 jobs there. As such, was Musk’s December 16 tweet promising far more than that a spot-on statement or a far-fetched embellishment? Musk hasn’t elaborated on his tweet, but experts believe his pronouncement isn’t in the wrong lane.

Corporate site consultant John Boyd doesn’t think the tweet is “hyperbole from larger-than-life Musk,” who is the world’s richest person.

“The magnitude of the Austin campus, the sea change transforming the North American auto industry, and Musk’s extensive business enterprises could easily support those kind of … numbers,” Boyd says. “I have found that the outspoken Musk is not prone to exaggeration and has no problem speaking his mind.”

Moreover, Boyd foresees Musk bulking up the Austin factory site — which is now Tesla’s corporate headquarters — with operations from his other ventures, such as SpaceX and Neuralink.

“Tesla is just a piece of the pie for Musk. Look for him to co-locate some of his other enterprises on his massive Austin site,” Boyd says. “It would be hard for him to find a better labor market and a more favorable state business and tax climate than he now enjoys in Austin.”

Tesla’s production capacity at the Austin plant for its Model Y, Cybertruck, and Semi vehicles could warrant Musk’s new claims about the size of the new factory’s investment and workforce, says Matt Patton, executive vice president of Austin-based economic development consulting firm AngelouEconomics.

“The potential for expanding the factory is there,” Patton says.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Looking to mix things up in your career? Elon's got a gig for you slinging cosmic cocktails. Mixology Crew

Elon Musk taps into Texas workforce for out-of-this-world bartender gig

DRINKING ON THE JOB

Can you mix a mean margarita? Are you capable of slinging a superb Aperol spritz? If so, Elon Musk wants you to become a "spaceport mixologist."

Musk's SpaceX, which builds and launches rockets, is hiring a "passionate, experienced" mixologist for its "spaceport" near Brownsville. The ideal candidate possesses at least two years of "superior" mixology experience at resorts, bars, and full-service restaurants, including the ability to pair drinks with themed menus.

Among other duties, the mixologist will prepare drinks, including handcrafted cocktails, and will ensure "consistency and compliance with the restaurant's recipes, portioning, and waste control guidelines."

The new mixologist will concoct alcoholic beverages for SpaceX's launch facility in Boca Chica, a Texas Gulf Coast community about 20 miles east of Brownsville. The job posting indicates the mixologist will work on the culinary team serving the SpaceX workforce.

According to Austin-based job website Indeed, the average mixologist in the U.S. earns $13.53 an hour. The SpaceX job posting doesn't list a salary, but you've got to imagine Musk — by far the richest person in Texas — would fork over more than $13.53 an hour for a spaceport mixologist.

By the way, in case you're not a master mixologist, SpaceX also is looking for a sous chef in Boca Chica. The sous chef will be tasked with cooking up menus that emphasize seasonal items and "creative" options. The chef's duties will include sourcing high-quality ingredients "with a focus on local, sustainable, and organic items."

Musk, who spends much of his time in Austin, is developing what the Bloomberg news service describes as an "empire" in Texas. Aside from the SpaceX facility, Musk-led Tesla is building a vehicle manufacturing plant just east of Austin and is moving its headquarters here. If that weren't enough, the Musk-founded Boring Co., which specializes in developing underground tunnels, lists 20 job openings in Austin on its website. In addition, SpaceX tests rocket engines at a site in McGregor, about 17 miles southwest of Waco.

"Texas has had its share of characters over the years, and many have been larger-than-life, wealthy risk-takers who came from elsewhere," Waco economist Ray Perryman tells Bloomberg. "There's still a wildcatting mentality here, and there's still a mystique about Texas that Elon Musk fits well."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.