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Just a few piles of scrap metal and concrete are all that’s left Wednesday at Janesville’s former General Motors plant, as seen in a drone photo.

JANESVILLE

The city of Janesville wants Elon Musk and his electric car company, Tesla, to turn their attention to Wisconsin’s Park Place—and it is using social media and promises of fresh dairy products to entice the automaker.

In Twitter posts earlier this week, the city told Musk that if he finds California inhospitable, he and his company should consider the former General Motors plant site as a possible new home.

“Hey @elonmusk & @Tesla: Having issues in CA? Welcome to Janesville, WI. We have a cleared former (General Motors) auto plant site ready for use and a skilled workforce ready to make cars. It’s Janesville’s history—it’s in our blood,” the city tweeted Monday.

City officials hatched the idea last weekend amid national headlines that Musk was locking horns with Alameda County officials over reopening Tesla’s Fremont, California, auto plant. Musk had defied the county’s orders that the plant remain closed under a shelter-in-place mandate.

City Manager Mark Freitag said the tweets to Tesla and Musk were partly a lighthearted way for city employees to forget their COVID-19 blues for a while.

“There’s a bit of fun in sending something like that out, too, because it’s created community conversation,” Freitag said. “Everybody is so focused on COVID-19. We thought, ‘Hey, this is something totally different.’”

But the tweets also were a serious effort to market the city’s homegrown offerings, workforce and its largest industrial redevelopment site, Freitag said.

“It was in response to the (Alameda County Tesla plant) news,” he said. “We said, ‘You know, if we don’t ask, it might never even cross anybody’s mind. So why don’t we throw it out there and see what happens?’

“The message is we’re more than happy to entertain a conversation about bringing Tesla’s current plant or maybe even a future plant to Janesville, Wisconsin. We put it out there, and it was a serious request.”

The city took to Twitter again Tuesday with another Janesville shoutout—one that touted Wisconsin’s dairy prowess and bovine workforce.

“These (retweets) and likes speak for themselves—#Janesville, #Wisconsin is a great community. Plus, our cows are happier,” the tweet read.

As of Wednesday afternoon, neither Tesla nor Musk had responded to the tweets, but 109 Twitter users had given them a thumbs-up, and 54 users had rebroadcast them.

Meanwhile, Tesla and Alameda County officials appear to have hashed out a tentative agreement that allows the Fremont plant to reopen under certain restrictions. Tesla is more vulnerable to the logistical pressures of a forced COVID-19 shutdown because, unlike most American automakers, Tesla’s vehicle production is based on orders.

Gale Price, city economic development director, said the state Department of Natural Resources should weigh in sometime this year on additional environmental cleanup responsibilities the former GM site’s owners might have on the site’s northern end, where the main plant once stood.

For now, action at the site and marketing efforts have been quiet, Price said, mostly because of uncertainty amid the pandemic.

Commercial Development Company, which owns the site, has mostly cleared the 120-acre northern portion of the property.

The DNR already has environmentally cleared the 115-acre former JATCO haul-away yard on the property’s south end.

Price and other city officials have indicated that Commercial Development might want to sell the entire property at once—possibly to another development firm.

Under earlier concepts floated by the owner, large parts of the site would be sectioned off for light industry, some of which would depend on existing railroad infrastructure.

Price said the former JATCO site is the most shovel-ready portion, which makes it the most likely to field redevelopment proposals.

Some local economic development officials have been leery about pursuing a single large-scale manufacturer that might provide the thousands of jobs lost when GM ended production at the Janesville plant in 2009.

Over the last decade, the city has seen the creation of thousands of new jobs thanks to growth in multiple sectors, including distribution and food production.

Freitag said he doesn’t see the city’s two Twitter posts as a shift from the long-term strategy of creating a more diverse local economy.

“Our lessons learned out of GM’s departure certainly haven’t changed. Our focus as a community is continued diversification of our business and economic portfolio,” Freitag said. “But even with diversification, bringing an automobile plant into our community at some point in the future, I think that would be just fine, too.”

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