Friday, October 15, 2021

Pinal County sees its future in a high-tech electric car

CASA GRANDE, AZ — It was a short ride from the assembly line to the press conference. But it’s all Governor Ducey needed to be sold on the Lucid Air Dream.

“They have a product people are going to stand in line for,” Governor Ducey said.

In less than two years, Lucid Motor transformed a Casa Grande cotton field into a million square foot manufacturing facility. Producing an electric car with a 1,100 horsepower engine. It travels 520 miles on a single charge. More than 13,000 cars have been pre-ordered with some for as much as $169,000. Deliveries begin at the end of the month. “It is an untraditional industry for the area, that’s for sure,” said Lucid Motors executive Daniel Witt.

The history of Pinal County lies in its dirt. From the beginning, agriculture has been the driving force of the economy. But a drought, which is now entering its third decade, and the creation of a high-performance electric automobile are changing the economic fortunes of Pinal County. “This could really be transformational,” Witt said.

More than 1,000 people were hired to get the car manufacturing plant running. But it’s only in phase one. “We want to build this to be the U.S. equivalent of Stuttgart, Germany where Daimler built the Mercedes brand,” Witt said, “and built that vehicle from a quality standpoint to best in the world.”

That will mean nearly tripling the size of the plant and hiring a total of 6,000 people. Lucid Motors says it will do that by the end of the decade, the governor’s office says.

Lucid Motors will contribute $100 million in state, county, and local tax revenues by 2030.

The manufacturing jobs coming to Pinal County are good paying jobs. But farming has long made up the fabric of this county. Pinal is at a crossroads, ready to welcome its future and fighting to hold on to its past.

“When my son built his house out here 10 years ago none of that was there. This was pristine,” said Nancy Caywood.

The ‘none of that’ Caywood is referring to are solar farms. The Caywood family has farmed in Pinal County for 90 years. As the access to water become harder, farmers are leasing their land to electric co-ops that are planting solar panels. Nancy Caywood’s farm is about to be surrounded by them. “You feel all kinds of emotions. You feel distraught, you feel hopeless, you feel angry, you feel sad,” Caywood said.

“The ag lands will shrink at some point. I don’t know to what kind of level. It will be whatever they match it with water,” Pinal County Board Supervisor Steve Miller said.

Miller has lived in Casa Grande for 50 years. Diversifying the economy has been a priority for Miller and the board of supervisors. Pinal County is the size of the state of Connecticut, it can’t rely just on agriculture.

Miller sees the arrival of Lucid as the start of an economic boom. Property values are up as more businesses tied to Lucid look to open shop in Pinal County. “If I said there would be 20 of these supply chain businesses that would be connected to all of this, that might even be short,” Miller said.

Home construction, a delicate subject in a time of drought, continues as more people move to Pinal or as Chairman Miller says move back to the county. “All three of my kids left Casa Grande and all three of my kids have moved back. Not that I solicited them, and that was shocking to me, and it’s being repeated over and over again,” Miller said.

But as Casa Grande grows, farmers like Nancy Caywood have their own vision of the future.

“We don’t have the water. How can we co-exist?”Caywood said.

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