other nearby school districts.
Musk comes to McGregor several times a year, Houchin said, describing the young billionaire as "dynamic" and "low key." Other adjectives he uses are unpretentious, personable, very approachable -- a "down-home guy" who is genuinely interested in the school district.
Dressed in jeans and a golf shirt, Musk mingled with the community at a well-attended annual picnic. "I bet there were a couple thousand people there," Houchin said.
Gilbert Salinas, executive vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, was at that picnic, too. He remembers Musk posing for photographs with residents and their children, talking with them. Genuine and down-to-earth, is how Salinas describes him. The picnic included a stage and music. When Musk was called to the stage and introduced, there was resounding applause for him, a corporate rock star.
Kevin Evans, the city manager in McGregor, said SpaceX "has done everything they've said they were going to do."
Explaining how SpaceX found McGregor, Evans said the city's 9,000-acre industrial park is a former military site that was returned to the city in 1998 when the Defense Department declared it surplus.
Beal Aerospace came in and wanted to compete with NASA. It built a large tripod test stand, and went bankrupt, Evans said.
"Then along comes Elon Musk, who decided to form a partnership with, yet independent of, NASA, and we had this tripod," Evans said. SpaceX leases 600 acres there.
The community has embraced SpaceX since it arrived.
"We love having something unique, creative and 'green,'" Evans said, noting the company's commitment to the environment.
Jon Mark Smith, director of the McGregor Chamber of Commerce, speaks about SpaceX workers and their enthusiasm.
"When you see them sitting around at lunch, they're all 21 to 31 years old," Smith said. "They have the education and the ability to soak up the changes of developing technology."
About half of SpaceX's 150 workers at the McGregor installation are natives of the area, many of whom enrolled at Texas State Technical College's Waco campus and took that education and training directly into the aerospace business in McGregor, Smith said.
Now, SpaceX is "heading toward 200" workers in McGregor, Evans said. The other half of the SpaceX workforce is made up of young engineers, "some right out of college," whom SpaceX recruited and brought to McGregor.
This infusion of industry has sparked growth from other businesses, as well. Evans mentions the new Ace Hardware store that recently opened, adding that SpaceX encourages its workers to patronize local businesses. The city's sales tax receipts have increased 18 percent since the company put down roots in Central Texas.
"All of the attention we're getting is because of SpaceX, but we have other industries. By the end of the year, we'll have 6,000 jobs," Smith said.
The city has a population of only 5,000 people, Evans said, but it is situated in an 11-county area that includes the cities of Waco, Killeen, Temple and "lots of tiny communities" with a combined population of about 850,000.
EYES ON CAMERON COUNTY
McGregor officials heard 18 months ago that SpaceX was looking at land in Cameron County, Smith said.
"There has been interest in Brownsville for a very long time," he said, and expressed confidence that Brownsville will be selected as the SpaceX launch site.
"I have no doubt in my mind that, if it was left up to SpaceX, they'd go to Brownsville," he said.
"Only something regulatory" -- such as the federal environmental impact study currently under way -- would keep it out of Brownsville, he said. "I don't know that the other options are that much more attractive."
Cape Canaveral, a contender for the launch site, comes with higher transport costs.
"McGregor to Brownsville is so much easier, and (SpaceX) is about cost savings and safety. They want space travel to be less expensive."
McGregor City Manager Evans also is supportive of Brownsville, and confident that it will be chosen.
"We've got the exciting part with the test launches," he said, "but down there, you get the really fun part. We get the tests, but you get the real launches."
In Brownsville, County Commissioner Sofia Benavides recalled her visit in April to SpaceX's corporate headquarters in Hawthorne.
Musk spent 15 minutes with the Brownsville delegation and its presentation for a potential site here. She called Musk and his lieutenants "professional, careful and serious." At the same time, she said, the company's headquarters are laid back.
Her first reaction to SpaceX's plans is that it was development that might affect a fragile ecosystem, she said, but SpaceX staffers have addressed her concerns and apprehensions about the environment.
They explained that the Boca Chica area is similar to both the Cape Canaveral and Vandenburg Air Force Base sites, where SpaceX has tested its rockets.
"They weren't trying to sell us," Benavides said. "They laid out their plans and were very sensitive to our concerns.
"If they can thrive in that environment (in California), and Cape Canaveral, I'll be on board once the environmental impact study is completed," she said.
She already is satisfied that SpaceX can coexist with the environmental issues and recreation uses of Boca Chica.
"It is time now that our people start to have the opportunity to better themselves. If the environmental review comes back favorable, I believe the (anti-development) mindset is different now. Not that we want to jeopardize the birds, but it's time to improve this area as a whole," she said. "Our kids get a future. They go to college and there's nothing for them here. Large companies don't usually look our way."
Border security, too, has been discussed because the launch site is just about 3 miles from the border with Mexico. SpaceX is coordinating with federal agencies and their counterparts in Mexico.
"We could probably end up being the most secure section of the entire border," Benavides said.
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